March 29, 2007

Meet Iran’s Revolutionary Liberals

Abdulla Mohtadi.jpg
Abdullah Mohtadi, Secretary General of the reformed and mainstream Iranian Komala Party

SULEIMANIYA PROVINCE, NORTHERN IRAQ – One of the roads leading out of the city of Suleimaniya in Iraqi Kurdistan might as well be renamed Revolutionary Road. Two armed compounds inhabited by exiled revolutionary Iranian leftists were built less than a mile away from each other. My colleague Patrick Lasswell and I accidentally found ourselves in the armed camp of the military wing of the Communist faction of the Komalah Party when we intended to meet with the more moderate social democrats up the street. A few days later we returned to the area and met with the right people.

The Communists hosted us warmly and kindly gave us a tour of their camp. But the liberals who split with them in the late 1980s proved to be far and away their intellectual and political superiors.

(UPDATED TO CLARIFY: There are two separate Iranian parties here who both call themselves Komala. One is communist, the other is liberal. The people interviewed in this article are the ex-communists. The people interviewed in the previous article are still communists.)

Secretary General Abdullah Mohtadi and Political Bureau member Abu Baker Modarresi sent two men to pick us up from our hotel – just to make sure we made it to the right place. They drove us to their safe house under armed guard less than an hour away from the Iranian border. We met over coffee and cigarettes.

MJT: You are both from Iran?

Mohtadi: Yes, yes we are.

MJT: How long have you been here?

Mohtadi: The first time our headquarters came inside Iraqi Kurdistan was in late 1983, when we lost the last liberated area in Iranian Kurdistan. So we moved our headquarters to Iraqi Kurdistan at that time, which was under Saddam Hussein. For some months they were reluctant to accept us, but they realized, okay, we are against the Islamic regime.

MJT: Did you ever have any problems with Saddam’s government?

Mohtadi: Yes. They shelled us. Also, we are the only Kurdish Iranian party that has been gassed by Saddam Hussein.

MJT: Really. Were you gassed here?

Liberal Komala Compound.jpg
The Komala Party Compound

Mohtadi: Twice. Not at this place, twice we were at different places at that time. Near Halabja. And also in our previous camp. We lost 72 people near Halabja on the banks of the River Siwan. The second time we lost 23 people. They were gassed by Saddam’s airplanes.

MJT: Was this during the Anfal Campaign? [The Anfal Campaign was Saddam’s attempt in 1988 and 1989 to utterly destroy the Kurds of Northern Iraq. 200,000 people were killed, and 95 percent of the villages were destroyed.]

Mohtadi: Yes, it was. Because they were suspicious – rightly – that we were dealing with the Anfal victims. We also had good relations with the Kurdish fighters, with the Peshmerga – of course, clandestinely. Thus they punished us for that.

And apart from that, we were shelled several times and we lost several people. It was not just once or by accident or as part of the large Anfal Campaign. No, they singled us out and hit us.

Guard Liberal Komala Compound.jpg
An armed guard watches the compound

MJT: Which regime was more oppressive to you?

Mohtadi: The Iranians.

MJT: Worse than Saddam?

Mohtadi: Yes, of course. To Iranian Kurds, yes.

MJT: Tell us something about this. Very few Americans, including me, know very much about what the Iranian government has done to the Kurds in Iran.

Mohtadi: That’s exactly our problem. So many people in the West and in the world know that Kurds had problems in Iraq, they have problems in Turkey. But very few people know that Kurds are under oppression in Iran, as well.

MJT: They are oppressed more than the Persians?

Mohtadi: More than the Persians and the Azeris, yes. I am not saying that it’s something like the Anfal Campaign or genocide has been taking place in Iran. Nevertheless, there have been lots of oppression and killings and torture and expelling people from their land and sending them to internal exile in Iran and shelling the cities and all kinds of oppression.

MJT: Why is the Iranian government doing this? Is it a religious war, an ethnic war, or is it political?

Lasswell: Or a combination?

Mohtadi: It is a combination but first of all political, and ethnic and religious as well.

There are three main religions in Kurdistan. Most of the Kurdish people are Sunnis in Iranian Kurdistan. But there is a considerable Shia minority in Iranian Kurdistan.

MJT: How many people are we talking about?

Mohtadi: At least 30 percent.

Kurds live in four different provinces. Only one of them is called Kurdistan in Iran. The first one, from top to bottom, is Western Azerbaijan, which is shared by Azeris and Kurds.

Mahabad is located in Western Azerbaijan. Mahabad, as you know, was the capital of the short-lived Kurdish Republic from 1945 to 1946. Then is the province of Kurdistan. Then is the province of Kermanshan. Then is the province if Ilam.

So we have four provinces in Western and in Northwestern Iran which are inhabited by Kurds. We also have Kurds – millions – how many, I really don’t know. There are no reliable statistics on that. We have Kurds in the Eastern part of Iran. There were Kurds who were sent to exile during the Middle Ages by Safavids, by Khajars, even by Pahlevis – the first Pahlevi, not the second one. Because they thought Kurds were troublemakers. They confiscated Kurdish lands. They expelled them from their lands.

And also because Kurds were supposed to be good warriors. Iran was – every time in its history except for the Arab invasion – it was invaded from the Northeast by the Turks. So they sent Kurds to the eastern part of Iran, to the northeastern part of Iran and settled them there to defend Iran from there.

MJT: How many Kurds are in Iran now?

Mohtadi: In these four provinces, 12 million.

MJT: That’s quite a bit more than here.

Mohtadi: It is. According to our sources in the Ministry of Budget and Planning in Iran, 35 percent of the whole internal Iranian water resources are located in Kurdistan. Apart from that, Kurdistan is very rich in terms of oil and minerals and all that.

Two places have been explored. We have gold mines. One of them was explored by the British and then the British went out of the contract, I don’t know why. Perhaps for political reasons. All kinds of minerals – Kurdistan is very rich agriculturally, for the grain and all kinds of…it’s a kind of grain house for Iran.

MJT: What do Kurds in Iran think of joining a Greater Kurdistan. We don’t hear anything about this because journalists don’t go to Iranian Kurdistan.

Mohtadi: It’s a dream. People consider it a right, but Kurdish mainstream politics in Iranian Kurdistan is not for secession.

MJT: What is it for then?

Mohtadi: For a democratic, secular, federal Iran in which Kurds have their own rights.

MJT: Is this taken as a pragmatic position, or is this what people really want? If they had the option, would they choose a democratic federal Iran, or would they choose Greater Kurdistan?

Mohtadi: You can imagine this, but options have to be real. There is no real option for a Greater Kurdistan. When it becomes a real option people can choose between them. But the only feasible option that is there is Kurdish rights within Iran.

But I must add that historically there have been good relations between different parts of Kurdistan together. They have a great impact on each other, especially Iraqi Kurdistan and Iranian Kurdistan. They speak almost the same dialects. So they are very near. Politically they feel very close to each other. They are relatives to each other. You have families. Part of the family lives in Iran and part of the family lives in Iraq.

Abu Baker Modarresi.jpg
Komala Party Political Bureau member Abu Baker Modaressi

Modarresi: They are a safe haven for each other.

Mohtadi: Yes, exactly. In 1978-79 the revolution broke out in Iran. It was a huge opportunity for the PUK [Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, the secular leftist party in charge of Iraq’s Suleimaniya Province] and Iraqi Kurds who were fighting against Saddam. In fact it saved them from annihilation.

Lasswell: And again in 1991.

Mohtadi: Of course. And from 1991 Iraqi Kurdistan, with all its shortcomings of course, it is still a source of inspiration for Iranian Kurds.

For example, when the law about federalism in Iraq was adopted in the national assembly in Iraq there were huge demonstrations in most cities and towns in Iranian Kurdistan. When [Kurdish PUK party chief in Northern Iraq] Jalal Talibani became President of Iraq there were huge demonstrations and clashes between police forces and people in Iran.

The same was true in 1945 and 1946 when a republic was established in Iranian Kurdistan, the Kurdish Republic. Also the Kurdish Iranian movement in 1979. It had a huge cultural and political effect on Iraqi Kurds. It brought with itself new concepts and new horizons for the Kurdish cause. A very close cooperation between Iranian and Iraqi Kurds and their parties began.

So whenever it becomes a real option that we can choose, we can decide. But right now it is just a dream, a right, an abstract right. But who knows, perhaps the time will come.

Lunch on Grass Komala.jpg
Two Komala Party members have lunch on the grass outside the compound

Lasswell: I suspect that if all of Kurdistan joins, they will have one language and it will be English.

Mohtadi: [Laughs.]

MJT: Well, how different are the dialects?

Mohtadi: They aren’t dialects.

MJT: Is it more a question of accents?

Mohtadi: It’s more than just accents. With two of them, it is more than just accents. The one which is called Standard Kurdish Sorani, which is spoken and written in Iranian Kurdistan and Iraqi Kurdistan. The other which is spoken and written illegally in Turkey and Syria.

MJT: Is it still illegal in Turkey? I understand the Turks have changed most of these laws.

Mohtadi: Yes, there is a process of change in Turkey. But they still have a long way to go.

MJT: I know they do. Last year I was in Turkish Kurdistan. It’s not a nice place. There is still fighting going on there. And the economy is at zero.

Mohtadi: To be honest it’s like…when we go to Istanbul and Ankara there are different parts if you look at Kurdistan. It’s like a colony. You can feel that they have been exploited by colonialism and oppressed. It’s not like 20th Century or 21st.

Lasswell: Or even the 19th. I think it would have been better under the Ottomans.

MJT: It probably was better under the Ottomans.

Mohtadi: It was. I mean, we have a famous Kurdish historian, Mohammad Amin Zaki. He was a very high-ranking official in the Ottoman Empire. And he tells us how he became aware of his Kurdishness. He says: Nobody said we are Turks. Everybody said we are Ottomans. And we were alright. It was alright for us. Then people started to say we are Turks. And I realized I was not a Turk. So I realized I was a Kurd.

They Turkified everything in Turkey. So there was no place for “others.” And that was the beginning of…

Modarresi: …the awakening.

Mohtadi: Yes, the Kurdish awakening.

MJT: Turkish Nationalism and Arab Nationalism are very similar in the way they are implemented.

Mohtadi: The British, the British colonialists ruled those areas and those countries. But they had nothing against ethnic origin. They had nothing against people’s ethnicity. But in Turkey they want to deny our ethnicity, our identity. So it’s more…it’s more deep. The oppression is more deep. Colonialism is a kind of oppression, but it’s from top to bottom. It’s from above. It doesn’t go to the texture of the society.

Lasswell: You sound very educated. Where did you study?

Mohtadi: [Laughs] Well, I’m not that educated. I studied in Tehran. I speak Farsi almost like my mother tongue. My father was a member of the forerunner to KDPI of Iran which established the Kurdish Republic of Mahabad. He was a minister in the cabinet of Ghazi Mohammad. Ghazi Mohammad was the President of the Kurdish Republic.

He was then hanged. He did not escape. He thought it was better to remain perhaps in order to prevent the Iranian authorities and the Shah from suppression. So he remained in the city of Mahabad and they hanged him along with two of his brothers and a cousin in 1946.

He was at that time supported, but also oppressed, by the Soviet Union.

Lasswell: They did not give support without strings attached. Perhaps “cables” would be a better description.

Mohtadi: That’s true.

His Komala, it was not our party, that Komala Party of Iranian Kurdistan, which was established in 1942. At that time, when the Allied Forces decided to occupy Iran and make it a bridge to send help from the United States and Great Britain and Western Allies to the Soviet Union and Stalin to defend against Hitler…when they occupied Iran they ousted Reza Shah, the father of Mohammad Reza Shah, the second Pahlevi who was toppled by the revolution in 1979.

Modarresi: Because of his good relationship with Hitler.

Mohtadi: Yes. He had started to make contacts with Hitler. He was a kind of – it was very strange, anyway – he had contacts with Hitler and tried to distance himself from Britain and make propaganda for Aryans and against the British.

So then they ousted him. 1941 to 1953 was the golden era of democracy in Iran. That’s the only period when the Iranian people had a constitutional monarchy. It was at that time that the first modern Kurdish party, called Komala JK – Komala, which means Organization or Party, of the Revival of Kurds. That was the name of the party.

MJT: You had a split with the Komalah Party down the road at some point. We know about that because, as you know, we accidentally met them a few days ago instead of you.

Mohtadi: That Komalah Party was established as an underground organization in 1969, under the Shah. We were a leftist organization. It was the 60s and 70s. It was a struggle against the Shah, against oppression, dictatorship, for social justice, and against…the United States. Sorry. [Laughs.]

MJT: Well, that’s alright.

Lasswell: My father was working pretty vigorously against aspects of the United States at the same time.

Mohtadi: We were also inspired by the anti-war movement in the 70s.

MJT: We wouldn’t expect you to have any other position. You’re a leftist, so…

Mohtadi: Yeah, ok. So, members of Komalah were arrested several times. Every other political dissident in Iran…there was no political freedom, especially in the 1970s. A system of very harsh and brutal torture was carried out in Iran, in the prisons. The dictatorship intensified. The Shah paved the way for his overthrow.

So many organizations in Iran were crushed and disintegrated. Komalah was not. We survived.

MJT: How did you survive?

Mohtadi: First of all, we were unlike other leftist organizations. We had real, real connections with people, with real people. We were a real movement. And that has been our characteristic for decades now.

MJT: How did that mean you were able to survive oppression from the state? Did you have more safe houses, things like that?

Mohtadi: We were among people. That was our safe house. We were among, for example, workers. Peasants. Teachers. Students. Different families. Neighborhoods.

We were against the guerilla warfare movement that swept the world in the 1970s. We had our theories against that. We believed in political work, raising awareness, organizing people. We said that was the real fortress. That was the real safe house.

MJT: You participated in the revolution of 1979, I assume.

Mohtadi: I did. He [referring to Modarresi] was arrested…twice, I suppose?

Modarresi: Yes.

Mohtadi: He was sent twice to prison under the Shah. Myself, three times. He spent three years?

Modarresi: Four years.

Mohtadi: I spent about three years in prison. Then in 1977 and 1978 we reorganized Komalah and we took part very actively in the revolution. At that time the KDPI of Iran were exiled. They didn’t have connections, real connections with people, for two decades. We were the real activists who took part in the revolution. We were behind the demonstrations. We organized people. We gave speeches. We led people on different occasions. Because we had that network inside the society most intact under the Shah we were able to control the movement in almost every city and town in Iranian Kurdistan.

Lasswell: Do you think it helped that you didn’t endorse the people who were committing violence?

Mohtadi: Let me clarify. We were not against revolution. We were not against overthrowing the regime of the Shah. What we were against was violence by small groups of guerillas who were separated from the mass movement. We put our emphasis on mass movements, on organizing them. We thought it was the people who had to do something about our fate.

MJT: Who did you have in mind, specifically at that time, of guerillas who were disassociated from a people’s movement?

Mohtadi: The Fedayan. And also the Mujahideen Khalq.

MJT: Ok.

Mohtadi: There were two different groups, religious and secular leftist guerilla groups who were influential at that time. People thought they were the way out of the dictatorship. Many many intellectuals and students and political activists joined them. But we wrote different pamphlets criticizing their methods. And that made us people who had something, a kind of political theory for a movement.

MJT: What do you think of PJAK? [The Iranian wing of the Marxist-Leninist Kurdistan Worker’s Party, the PKK, from Turkey.] Are they the kind of people you just described? Or are they more…popular than that?

Mohtadi: No, no, no, they are not popular. They are part of the PKK. When they cross the border [from Turkey] they change their name.

The problem with the PKK…I mean, the Kurdish toilers have every right to fight for their rights and their freedom. But the PKK as an organization is not reliable. They are very fanatic in their nationalism. They are very undemocratic in nature. They have no principles. I mean, they can deal with Satan. They can fight the Kurds.

MJT: They have fought the Kurds.

Mohtadi: Yes, they have fought the Kurds. They have fought the Kurds much more than they have fought the Turks. When you study the history of the PKK, you find out that they have been against every single Kurdish movement in every part of Kurdistan. At the same time they have had good friendly relations with all the states where the Kurds live, where the oppressed live.

They have been friends with Hafez al-Assad [in Syria]. They have been friends with the Khomeini regime. And they supported Saddam in 1996.

MJT: So, really, Turkey is the only country they haven’t had good relations with.

Mohtadi: Yes.

Lasswell: But they’ve used everyone else to maintain their power.

Mohtadi: Yes. They are very greedy.

Lasswell: The people down the road [referring to the estranged and unreconstructed Communist faction of the Komalah Party] said the PKK has a lot of money.

Mohtadi: They do.

MJT: Where do they get this money? Do they get it from these other regimes?

Mohtadi: The Kurdish-Turkish community in Europe is a huge community, unlike the Iraqi Kurds who are a few thousand or tens of thousands. They are millions. And they tax people. They impose taxes on people, on every business that Kurds have in Europe. They cannot fail to pay.

MJT: So it’s basically a mafia now. In Europe.

Mohtadi: I think so, yes. Unfortunately, they are. They also have bases on the border between Iran and Turkey. They help people smuggle drugs and they tax them. It is a huge source of raising money.

PKK ideology is a mixture of Stalinism, Kurdish tribalism, patriarchalism.

MJT: I thought they were opposed to tribalism.

Mohtadi: They exploit the tribal culture. They have mobile phones, walkie talkies, satellite stations, but I don’t consider them to be a modern party in the real sense of the word. Like the mafia. The mafia was modern in a sense, but they exploited the medieval culture that was there in Italy, the family connections, the family loyalties. The PKK did not start the struggle against Turkey until they had eliminated other Kurdish groups and achieved a monopoly of the Kurdish movement.

MJT: Do you have any relations with them at all?

Mohtadi: We had. We supported them in a sense, but we always had reservations. At some times they were under pressure by Iraqi Kurds. We tried to mediate between them. We even helped them in some respects. But we found out that they are unreliable. They have no principles, no friendship, no contracts, no values. Perhaps it’s a harsh judgment I’m making, but…

MJT: Well, I agree with your judgement. So I’m not going to say it’s harsh. It may not be kind, but I think it’s true.

Modarresi: They never believed in pluralism.

Mohtadi: In the name of the Kurdish movement, they eliminate everybody.

MJT: It sounds to me like they’re a mafia, but they have the reputation of being a leftist group.

Mohtadi: They got some ideas and some organizational methods from the left, but just as a tool. They don’t have the real genuine leftist values. I mean, you have to be…there are values.

MJT: I know.

Lasswell: In the United States the primary organizer of the anti-war movement is a group called ANSWER – Act Now to Stop War and End Racism.

MJT: They lost all the left values, as well. They support North Korea, for God’s sake.

Mohtadi: How could they support North Korea! It’s not Marxist, it’s a kind of secular religion.

Lasswell: It’s a Starvation Monarchy.

Mohtadi: [Laughs.] Yes, exactly. In 1983 we took part in the Communist Party of Iran, but after some years we realized it was a mistake. We criticized that and split from them. It took some years, of course. It was not just like that. [Snaps fingers.]

MJT: You split with them over what, precisely?

Mohtadi: Over so many things.

MJT: Are you referring to the party down the road here?

Mohtadi: Yes. [Laughs.] It’s a lousy party now. It was not like that always.

Lasswell: They seem very ideologically controlled. They are very fixed in their belief structure. Do you feel you outgrew them?

Mohtadi: Yes, they are very dogmatic. They are very sectarian.

MJT: You mean ideologically sectarian.

Mohtadi: Ideologically sectarian. They have lost contact with the realities of the society. They’re against the Kurdish movements. They aren’t enemies of the Kurdish movement, but they have no sympathy for it. They have no sympathy for the democratic movement in Iran. We think the time for that kind of left is over. It was our belief in the late 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s, and that was the real cause of our split.

We revived the Komala Party of Iranian Kurdistan, and we are now more affiliated with European social democracy.

MJT: Are you a member of the Socialist International?

Mohtadi: Not a full member, no. We have applied for that, and we are a member of the Kurdish Group of the Socialist International.

MJT: If I describe you as social democrats, is that accurate?

Modarresi: We won’t be angry. [Laughs.]

Mohtadi: We haven’t decided to take that name or not. But we are for democratic values. We are for political freedoms, religious freedoms, secularism, pluralism, federalism, equality of men and women, Kurdish rights, social justice. We are for a good labor law, labor unions. There is an element of the left in our political program.

MJT: You sound like the mainstream left.

Mohtadi: But as a leftist and as a Kurd I thought the left discredited itself by associating itself with Saddam Hussein and with the political Islamist groups. The left, the genuine left, should have been the real defenders of democracy, of political rights, of political freedoms, of overthrowing dictators, no matter if the United States government is or is not against them.

To be continued…

Post-script: If you enjoy my articles from Northern Iraq, please help cover my travel expenses and support independent writing and journalism by donating through Pay Pal. The Kurdistan region of Iraq is an expensive place to visit, and these trips don’t pay for themselves.

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All photos copyright Michael J. Totten

Posted by Michael J. Totten at March 29, 2007 07:06 AM


Trackbacked by The Thunder Run - Web Reconnaissance for 03/29/2007
A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention.

Posted by: David M at March 29, 2007 08:21 AM

Heh, I'm glad you had that accidental visit the other day. It's very interesting to read these two interviews side by side. I appreciate the interviews. Iranian Kurds and Syrian Kurds are almost nonexistent as far as the media goes, and I had no idea there were so many Kurds in Iran!!! One has to wonder how Ahmadinejad sleeps at night or in other words, never underestimate the Kurds. ;-)

I'm gonna wait on any questions until I read the "to be continued" part of the interview. Excellent read so far, thanks!

Posted by: Renée C. at March 29, 2007 10:32 AM

There is no good Communist. If ever these guys came to power, the firing squads would go 'round the clock and all hope of democracy would be gone. They're all for democracy when out of power, once they get it, it's the first thing that goes. I think there are a lot of mullahs in Iran that need a SERIOUS ass-kickin'. But that doesn't mean I want these guys to take over. It would be trading the devil you know for the devil you don't.

Posted by: Kevin at March 29, 2007 10:58 AM

There is no good Communist. If ever these guys came to power, the firing squads would go 'round the clock and all hope of democracy would be gone. They're all for democracy when out of power, once they get it, it's the first thing that goes. I think there are a lot of mullahs in Iran that need a SERIOUS ass-kickin'. But that doesn't mean I want these guys to take over. It would be trading the devil you know for the devil you don't.

Posted by: Kevin at March 29, 2007 10:59 AM

These guys sound way smarter and more thoughtful than the other ones. Is that just a function of their fluency in English or is it a real difference?

They seem like guys you'd enjoy having a pint with.

Posted by: Gene at March 29, 2007 11:00 AM

I was reading along and was thinking that if the Kurds spoke English, they could easily join the Anglosphere. Then I read this and laughed:

>>Lasswell: I suspect that if all of Kurdistan joins, they will have one language and it will be English.

Are Patrick and I great minds? At least we're thinking alike.

Posted by: John Davies at March 29, 2007 12:53 PM

I want to reply to Kevin's comment - I hope that isn't out of place.

I think what you say has merit, especially given their support for armed revolution in the past. Communists, or leftists who want revolution, do tend to take things a bit too far. But these guys don't seem like the "neverending revolution" types of communists like they have in Cuba - they barely sound like communists at all, in fact.

Their restraint in the past is one indicator of this, as is their antipathy towards the PKK's lack of pluralism. Pluralism seems sorely lacking in hardline communists, and yet it seems to be flourishing in this group. Perhaps it is possible that they support violent overthrow of the Mullahs only because they see no other choice? I would also remind you that not all liberal revolutions lead to mass killings and firing squads. America, for example, did not follow this path.

Posted by: J-P at March 29, 2007 12:54 PM

Kevin, this guys split with the Communist Party. They aren't Communists in any way whatsoever.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at March 29, 2007 03:29 PM

Michael, while I agree with your comment against Kevin, you should check your post WW II history.

Where have Communist Leftists gained power thru revolution/ armed struggle, without mass killing after their overthrow?

They say, now, they're not commies, they are "For a democratic, secular, federal Iran in which Kurds have their own rights."
This is great. They sound great, but I don't believe the moderates will be successful. Unfortunately. So the commie-killers will take over leadership... I hope not.

Or perhaps Iraqi Kurdistan incorporates those values, strongly, and becomes a successful example -- which seems quite possible.

Turkey needs to set its Kurds free. Kurds should apologize to the Armenians for their part, as the trigger pulling killers, of the genocide last century.

Your interviews are great. Please do more. Maybe just your usual talking, ask if you can tape it/ note it?
It's the most real info on the ME I can find.

Posted by: Tom Grey - Liberty Dad at March 29, 2007 07:09 PM


I've written that the Communist Party of Iran is actually more liberal than any other party that I've been able to find from Iran.

I've tried to express the difference between the power hungry and the liberal in my post The Submission Curve. My point was about liberal thought versus the "name" a movement choses. Me? I shudder when I hear someone describe themself as a "progressive". And yet I continue to describe myself as a "liberal".

The best links I have on what's going on in Iraq have been communist. None of them work now.

Actions, not words, matter more when you cut toward the wind. And you are cutting the wind now. Stay safe.

Posted by: OregonGuy at March 29, 2007 09:27 PM

Tom Grey - Liberty Dad,

I am about as suspicious as communists as you can be without suffering mental debility from paranoia. These guys are not communists anymore. They got tired of being purged for being sane and decided to stop being characters in Monty Python's "Life of Brian."

The real test is that they denounce Cuba intelligently. The kinds of communists you are worried about toe the party line to ridiculous degrees of conformity. For those kinds of guys, see the previous post. These guys would be chucked out of the California Democratic Party for being too "right-wing".

Most importantly, they make intelligent and sincere arguments for non-violent confrontation and organization. These are veterans of a successful Iranian Revolution, the last one. They are making intelligent changes to avoid a repetition of that bloodbath. Please give them credit for greater experience in fomenting revolt in Iran than you have. Unless there's something you'd like to tell us about where you were in 1979?

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell at March 30, 2007 01:16 AM

This is so fascinating. I am learning exactly how much I don't know about the region and how much more complex and involved are the issues, the groups and factions. Can't wait for the next installment! Thank you so much.

Posted by: Yael at March 30, 2007 02:36 AM

These guys sound like true Leninists.

Lenin also refused to use terror and instead decided to 'go into masses' so to say.

Once Lenin's influence grew strong enough, he started violent revolution followed by never ending terror and suppression, which some believe exists even today.

I do not want to speculate on what will happen in the future but this is definitely something to think about.

On the other hand, if regime change will lead to demise of suicidal jihadis it will be good thing in any case.

Posted by: leo at March 30, 2007 06:11 AM

These guys sound like true Leninists.

Sigh. They aren't communists of any kind. Are you guys confusing them with the communists we interviewed previously?

They are vaguely neoconservative in the Christopher Hichens and Paul Berman mold.

They are personal friends with Hitchens, actually, and with others of that sort. They are, indeed, too right-wing for the American left. So, please, let's put a sock in this "Leninist" libel.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at March 30, 2007 06:47 AM

I'm a little disappointed by the comments on the page. Yes, these people have had ties w/ the Communist parties and they do cite some of the tenants of the ideology. When you read the article though, they do give a statement that shows they have split from the party. The statements they give sound like something from a main stream Southern Democrat as opposed to che gueavara t-shirt wearing protester. I'm not supporting immediate aid to these people but I think it would be fair to take their comments at fair value in light of the history behind their movement. I also think it may be helpful to new readers that this has never been a pro right website in much of the same way that it has never been a pro-left website. It is exactly why people want to and continue to support it. They want to read and see what is happening at the ground level of these organizations which have very few, if any, exposure in the United States (at least to my knowledge). In regards to the conversation, I hope in the future you could go into more detail w/ the economic model they are hoping to emulate if they ever do achieve the state/federalism they are fighting for. They imply they wish to emulate themselves after the Europeans but do they want the free market/ flat-tax you see in the Eastern Countries or the more heavily protected and subsidized you see in the Western part. I realize that these may be a finer detail, but any questions concerning the basic economics allow people to better distill exactly what kind of politics may lay down the road.

Posted by: mantis at March 30, 2007 10:16 AM

Mantis, you get a gold star from the teacher.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at March 30, 2007 01:48 PM

Posted by: J-P at March 29, 2007 12:54 PM

"I would also remind you that not all liberal revolutions lead to mass killings and firing squads. America, for example, did not follow this path."

I would remind you, he was talking about communists / socialists... this has nothing to do with liberal revolutions. They call their stuff socialist revolutions....

Posted by: thomas at March 30, 2007 03:09 PM

Thanks for a fantastic interview. Linked it in Issue #7 of Iran Roundup.

Posted by: Jeff Garzik at March 30, 2007 06:32 PM

Agreed, always captivating . . .

I wonder if this readying is really for an offensive or rather a passive defensive. I hope the latter.

Turkey readying for spring offensive against PKK
The leaves of military personnel have been canceled and additional forces have been deployed to the border with Iraq as the military apparently prepares for an operation against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

The measures come amid frustration with US inactivity against the PKK and the expected infiltration of PKK militants from their mountain bases in northern Iraq with the arrival of spring.

Much more at the link above.

TodaysZaman seems reliable and with a code of ethics, however I admit to not knowing yet = TG

Posted by: TonyGuitar at March 31, 2007 12:07 AM

Good interview and everything. Good stuff on the PKK.. maybe. On the other hand,

In the United States the primary organizer of the anti-war movement is a group called ANSWER – Act Now to Stop War and End Racism.

How does someone get nominated as "primary organizer?" If 20,000 people show up at an antiwar protest with 100 groups, and 500 of them are from ANSWER, do they get transmuted into "primary organizer" by media magic? I think a more accurate description, from my own personal witnessing, is that they show up at ANTIWAR protests.

Here's my question for the day: these guys seem like reasonable people. But, while you got them to mildly dissaprove of their fellow splinter groups
in an interview for foreign media, we still have no idea if they work with these guys or not. So if PJAK and Komala people show up at the same anti-Iranian protest, does that make Komala tools and fools?

If not, then why do US anti-war activists have to give a dam* about ANSWER?

But as a leftist and as a Kurd I thought the left discredited itself by associating itself with Saddam Hussein and with the political Islamist groups. The left, the genuine left, should have been the real defenders of democracy, of political rights, of political freedoms, of overthrowing dictators, no matter if the United States government is or is not against them.

I get tired of these canards. No one defended Saddamn, except, mostly in the context of things the U.S. shouldn't do to him for reasons relating to the U.S.'s own ethics. Or, perhaps, in the context of debating the extent or accuracy of various accusations against the man. But Saddamn never received a positive character reference from any but the lunatic fringe. Any exceptions that someone might drag up here to refute are highly unrepresentative of the U.S. left or even the anti-war movement as a whole.

Here's an appropriate parallel: if Iran was wiping out the PJAK, and the neocons were pulling for invasion, and I responded by using your article as evidence that the PJAK are thugs and therefore this is a bad situation to get involved in, I'd be hoisted up as an example of "defending the mullahs". Or maybe I'd be "defending the mullahs", if I didn't get behind Kurdish insurgent bombings of public places in Iran. Those statements are about as accurate as claiming that the anti-war movement supported Saddamn. Which is to say, sensationalist nonsense. Not that I don't understand that you were trying to relate to your interviewer of a similar US situation. But it was a lousy equivalency.

Posted by: glasnost at March 31, 2007 11:43 AM

In regards to the protest rally, if you are referring to the one recently at DC, I was there and have the pictures which show something different. You are right in that ANSWER was not the dominant party, but there were several groups that were at the same ideological level or more extreme than ANSWER. But at the same time, the dominant theme at the rally was any one of the following: The Bush lied people died mantra, Bush is the next Hitler, and a sizable minority who considered Iraq better before our invasion. If you do not want your demonstration to be seen as merely representative of the fringe element, you have to speak out against those people who you are characterizing as nothing but the fringe. Not one speaker at the rally, spoke out against ANSWER or PROJECT PINK or any other "primary organizer". If you want your position taken seriously, start by distancing yourself from these groups instead of chanting and cheering at the slogans they were using.

Posted by: mantis at March 31, 2007 01:05 PM

Interesting stuff, much valuable information.

One minor quibble: There was no British (or French) colonialism in the ME. When in the wake of WWI the defeated Ottoman Empire was broken up, the League of Nations gave the victorious British and French a perfectly legal mandate to administer the non-Turkish former Ottoman lands of the ME until those territories, which possessed hardly any trained locals, were fit for self-government and independence. By the end of WWII virtually all mandate-territories had become independent.

Likely neither the British nor the French were perfect in the exercise of their mandate authority. But still it's a far cry, legally as well as in practical terms, from "colonialism", and it lasted not more than about 25 years (Iraq even already became independent in 1932).

No Western colonialism in the ME.

Posted by: Michael at March 31, 2007 06:17 PM

No, Michael?

No colonialism?
What about 'undercover' colonialism?
Like instigating violence between local tribes/groups etc. and thus making their 'presence' - 'necessary'?
What about dividing the borders of several countries to THEIR convenience (based on interests) without looking at the population residing there?



Posted by: tsedek at March 31, 2007 07:10 PM

Spectacular series of interviews. Wish I could get such a good return on my money elsewhere. These particular guys sound more like my kind of leftists (outrigger firmly starboard, intellect engaged) than any I have met in the States for awhile.

Stay safe, MJT and PL, and keep writing. (P.S. Interview ONE activist woman during this trip, and I'll double my investment in your travel fund.)

Posted by: Pam at March 31, 2007 09:00 PM


I wish you had not mentioned that anti-war group.

They are totally consumed with staging anti-war protests and discussing ONLY the relative size of their various protests.

They offer no suggestions of how to mitigate the huge long term loss of life if a pull out were to take place.

The only one sided discussion I could find was the shocking underestimate of the size of a demonstration by the San Francisco press.

This is a club that caters to those who protest. Seems there is no discussion of logic or reason of purpose.

One could imagine that the leaders of this group are getting rich with the financial support of some very dark and secret sponsors.

This seems very much a cheerleader club for the good-hearted but non-thinking activist.= TG

Posted by: TonyGuitar at March 31, 2007 10:09 PM

The Bush lied people died mantra, Bush is the next Hitler, and a sizable minority who considered Iraq better before our invasion.

You may (or I may) consider these inaccurate statements, or even examples of crude or sloppy logic, but none of them equate to a positive opinion of Saddamn Hussein or his government.

For your third statement, knowing that Iraqis were better off under Saddamn doesn't take delusion, just ruthless realism. Saddamn had his moments, especially during the Iran-Iraq war, but he wasn't violently killing 100K-200K Iraqis a year - a conservative estimate - in the years immediately prior to his invasion. So it makes logical sense that the Iraq war has made life objectively worse for the average Iraqi. Unless you trade tens of thousands of violent deaths extra a year for.. more cellphones. Which isn't something I feel comfortable doing on behalf of living, breathing Iraqis. Nor should you.

The point of protests isn't to make people who hate leftists become friends with them. The charge that the anti-war movement in America is made up of people that admire, or admired, Saddamn, or any other totalitarian ruler, is a serious charge deserving serious opposition, and maybe some outrage.

Your charges, on the other hand, the protestors a) don't like the President or b) think war made things worse - fail to impress me. No one should be ashamed to hold either of those beliefs.

This seems very much a cheerleader club for the good-hearted but non-thinking activist.= TG

I'm not always impressed either, Tony, but I think it's evasive and not very accurate to dismiss the 'anti-war movement' in the country by equating it to ANSWER.

Posted by: glasnost at March 31, 2007 11:35 PM

Dear Michael
But I am really surprised by the degree of iresponsible statements of Abdulla Mohtadi concerning PKK and PJAK. It seems due to his limited knowledge in English, he has just been so obsessed by your precense "As Americans" that he says things that his rank and file are rejecting out right, let alone the Kurdish struggling people at large.
Calling PKK and PJAK mafia and unrialible is spitting in the face of the devoted Kurdish militants, who are working for a better future for Kurds.
Abdulla Mohtadi first and formost should deal with internal crisis in his own group and his
uncivilised approach to the people " down the road" instead of repeating the Turkish millitary war propaganda against PKK and spreading disinformation of variuos Iranian intelligence services against PJAK.
Michael! you should arrange an interview with representitives of PKK, and talk to representitives of PJAK as well, in order to inform your reader from direct sources , who may be misled by oppurtunistic Abdulla Mohtadi , whom has no right right to falsify the reality of Kurdish movemenr.

Posted by: Hajar at April 1, 2007 05:19 AM

OK, Glasnost, I will join you in the dismissal of Answer.

After all, no sane person likes war, other than those in Isenhower*s Industrial Military complex, that is.

So you must have a life-saving pull-out plan in mind from some group other than Answer.

What is it? I have never seen that plan yet.

Of course things are worse in many places in Iraq after Saddam*s removal.

There is a network of vicious power vacuums across the country being stirred up by Acmahdinejad forces.[Muqtada and Hizballah]

Yet, do you find it curious that Iraqis do not lament his removal and the small price of gassing Kurd villages as part of the daily killing diet Baath law calls for? Not to mention the pillaging of smaller neighbours like Kuwait. Was Qatar next?

Balances of powers must be made in Iraq before pulling out. Any sudden withdrawl will slay thousands more over the near term.

But I admit to not having seen your clever pull-out plan yet. = TG

Posted by: TonyGuitar at April 1, 2007 04:36 PM


Abdullah Mohtadi has a perfect command of the english language. He probably picked that up as a doctoral student at the University of London.

The source of his concerns regarding the PKK and PJAK are that they are brigands, not liberators. Since brigandry and banditry have been practiced in the hills around here since the invention of the theft, the charge seems plausible. Given the indiscriminate nature of the violence carried out by the PKK and the utter disaster they have made of Eastern Turkey, the burden of proof does not rest as strongly with the Komala.

Show us plausible evidence that does not require Michael or myself to put our heads in the noose to acquire showing the PKK are not bandits, and we will be more willing to believe you. Until then, General Secretary Abdullah is my preferred source. I have eaten in his home and never felt threatened in the slightest.

The people calling us liars in extremely broken english by email do not comfort me at all.

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell at April 1, 2007 09:43 PM

Michael or Patrick,

Did you actually ask them how they would feel about a democratic right-of-center party? Would they work together with one to establish a democratic government? After all that's the test.

Oh, BTW, great work! Like all your posts.

Posted by: Yafawi at April 2, 2007 02:15 AM

If Iran gets a democratic, pluralistic, and secular government, I think this Komala will be in their happy place. Decades of oppression and tyranny helps you focus on what matters.

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell at April 2, 2007 07:48 AM


you can of course extend the definition of colonialism to comprise virtually every foul trick and misdemeanor employed by a more powerful nation against a less powerful counterpart, but then it becomes meaningless.

What the British and French did in the ME may not have been altogether saintly, but it was certainly not colonialism in the classical, or in any meaningful sense.

By the way, the "tribes" of the ME never seemed to need much pitting by outsiders to be at each other's throats.

And: If the mandatory powers had drawn more "natural" boundaries, you would have at least half a dozen more states in today's ME. That sure would have made the Pan-Arabists of the past three generations and up to this day real happy, right?

Michael (H., not Totten)

Posted by: Michael H. at April 2, 2007 07:56 AM

In the United States the primary organizer of the anti-war movement is a group called ANSWER – Act Now to Stop War and End Racism.

This is, at best, a terribly misleading statement. I'm not sure why Michael and Patrick are so bitter and resentful towards the American "Left", I can imagine living in radical Oregon has something to do with it, but I wish they wouldn't help foreigners get a completely misleading picture of what is actually happening in the US. As far as I can tell the influence of groups like ANSWER, even on American liberals has been minimal, and very counterproductive from the point of view of people who were opposed to the war for honest reasons and not because of some instinctual anti-Americanism. In 2002/03 many Republicans and moderates who normally would have considered declaring war on Iraq to be a dubious idea gave Bush the benefit of the doubt precisely because of radicals like ANSWER, so perversely Kurds can probably be grateful groups like that exist in the US. The mounting anti-War sentiment in America now has nothing to do with ANSWER or the radical left, and everything to do with the lack of any positive outcome, at least as most Americans see it. The leaders of the "anti-war movement" today would probably be elected politicians like Chuck Hagel, Jim Webb, John Murtha and Nancy Pelosi. Maybe those people are radical leftists in the eyes of the people who read this blog, but they have about as much relation to ANSWER as George Bush does to the John Birch Society.

Posted by: vanya at April 3, 2007 01:16 AM


I did not say leaders, I said organizers.

Fact: ANSWER is a Stalinist group. They have been repeatedly documented acting in a Stalinist manner. They espouse Stalinist causes and countries. The are North Korea apologists. They carry water for the Kim dynasty.

Fact: The bulk of the large anti-war protests since 9/11 have been organized by ANSWER or with their assistance.

Fact: The anti-war movement in 1991 did the Kurds no favors and showed no interest or sympathy towards the Kurds until after Saddam was killing them by the thousands, again.

Fact: The anti-war movement still takes no resposibility for the post-1975 atrocities in Vietnam. Just ask Zbigniew Brezynski.

I suggest to you that the anti-war movement just wanted camera time in 1991 and since 2001, and they will use any methods and any allies to get it. If you want to defend the anti-war movement, choosing to select the people who organize their rallies is a bad choice. In the last three months disabled veterans have been spit on and soldiers have been burned in effigy at anti-war rallies. The organizers did nothing to stop this behavior and take no responsibility for the consequences of their actions.

Today I visited Saddam's torture chambers that anti-war organizers worked diligently to keep in operation. You picked the wrong day and backed the wrong horse. The one who is misled is you.

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell at April 3, 2007 01:13 PM

never knew thanks for info
looks like a long battle still ahead

Posted by: brad at April 3, 2007 08:00 PM

You completely misread my post. I expect an apology. I never defended ANSWER, I pretty much agree with any criticism you have of that group (except your Vietnam comment, which is just wrong the way you've framed it. You should talk to your friend Hitchens and let him explain to you Kissinger's role in all that). My point is that in the US those people are irrelevant. To the extent they affect public opinion at all it is to drive people like me to support the other side. You have offered not one statement supporting your apparent contention that groups like ANSWER actually matter in any meaningful way. ANSWER is just one of many hateful groups in the US. My question, if you read my post, is why you and Michael seem to feel the need to focus on groups like this. I can only assume you are trying to discredit any criticism of US policy and Bush by associating that criticism with some of the worst elements of the US left you can find. That is simply intellectually dishonest.

Posted by: Vanya at April 3, 2007 10:17 PM

How does someone get nominated as "primary organizer?"

By being the group handling most of the organizational details (arranging permits, logistics, etc). The thing is, ANSWER has never been merely 'leftist', it is/was a front group for an overtly communist organization, the WWP. They just started calling themselves ANSWER because communism has enough of a bad smell associated with it in the US that all save the most radical leftist groups are reluctant to associate with a known communist organization.

From the Wikipedia entry on the Worker's World Party:


Among activists, WWP has been well-known for sponsoring or directing numerous popular front groups, which critics allege are actually front groups. The party founded the Act Now To Stop War and End Racism (ANSWER) coalition shortly after 9/11, and has run both the All People's Congress (APC) and the International Action Center (IAC) for many years. The APC and the IAC in particular share a large degree of overlap in their memberships with cadre in the WWP. In 2004, a youth group close with the WWP called Fight Imperialism Stand Together (FIST) was founded, but FIST claims an independent left-wing political orientation and does not define itself as the WWP youth group.

Also in 2004, the San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Washington DC branches of WWP left almost in their entirety to form the Party for Socialism and Liberation. The newly formed PSL assumed leadership of the ANSWER coalition, leaving the WWP to build a new group, the Troops Out Now Coalition.


Posted by: rosignol at April 4, 2007 07:10 AM

My question, if you read my post, is why you and Michael seem to feel the need to focus on groups like this. I can only assume you are trying to discredit any criticism of US policy and Bush by associating that criticism with some of the worst elements of the US left you can find.

I hope you know the old saw about assuming... :-/

Not being telepathic, I can't say for sure, but my impression of Mr. Totten is that he's a bit idealistic, and is sympathetic to a lot of the rhetoric leftists/liberals use, but has seen enough of the world to realize that the actions groups such as ANSWER advocate (leaving Saddam in power, for example) will not lead to achieving the stated goals of these groups (which I will broadly describe as 'reducing the level of suckage on this rock').

You can probably figure out the rest.

Posted by: rosignol at April 4, 2007 07:51 AM

I can only assume you are trying to discredit any criticism of US policy and Bush by associating that criticism with some of the worst elements of the US left you can find. That is simply intellectually dishonest.

Yup, apart from self-righteous moralizing and simply changing the subject, that's been their main tactic for quite a while now.

Posted by: novakant at April 4, 2007 09:19 AM

I belive their is a good reason why Mohtadi critisizing pkk and its becuase many of the memmbers who was with the Komala from the begining are now supporting pkk especilly those who live in europe.Who want to be with the loosers?

Posted by: Kawa at April 4, 2007 12:17 PM

I along with potentially lots of other people would love to see some first hand reporting from Baghdad. That sham of a press conference with McCain and Lindsey Graham seemed to show one reality (lots of security required including apache attack helicopters and 100 armed soldiers) while the senators spoke of a different reality (strolling in the market as if it were perfectly safe). I doubt things are as good as the senators were saying while I also doubt things are as bad as I keep hearing. Or maybe they are actually that bad but it is hard to know who to trust. I just know that I don't trust McCain. He's a bad liar.

Posted by: Graham at April 4, 2007 11:01 PM

In other news-

Apparently there is a Heavy Metal scene in Baghdad!

Posted by: rosignol at April 5, 2007 05:46 AM

I'm a iranien kurd from Sweden, and it's a pleasure to read this. My parents is ex. members of Komala, I was and visit their bas 2004, and i'm realy glade to read this =)

Posted by: Hanna at April 20, 2007 03:14 PM

Some of the info given by Mr. Mohatadi are not precise historically ( Although I assume he knows the truth perfectly!)

1- What he calls "his Komala" (Je Kaf Komala in 1942) actually was not his komala. Ghazi joined J.K.K late in 1944 and since J.K.K was not controlled by Soviets, based on their recommandation KDPI was formed and Ghazi became leader of this party.
Although this fact does not undermind the important role of Ghazi or Mr. Mohtadi's father (A feudal, a cleric and an academic intellectual), but Mr. Mohtadi's given info is not correct.

2- There was a gurrila movement in Eastern (Iranian) Kurdistan in late 1960's by a fraction of KDPI, but as he says KDPI was in exile for 2 decades!! Also in the wake of revolution, (unfortunately) KDPI was the dominant political party in the region.

3- There was no Komala before the 1979 revolution, no signs of such an organization could be found in the regions history, there were few pro PUK Iranian kurds that formed Komala after revolution in Iran (same story as PJAK and PKK).

4- Although I agree that PJAK is founded and guided by PKK, no one could claim that they have no popularity. On contrary, (unfortunately again)PJAK is the only active political party inside Eastern Kurdistan, the rest like 2 Komalas and 2 KDPs are inside Iraq and do not have any active political role inside Eastern Kurdistan.

5- The population of Kurds in Iran: the given figure 12 milion is not correct. Iran claims 5 milion Kurds and opposition claims 12 milion. Due to constant civil war and wide trend of immigration from this region 12 milion could not be true. A more realistic figure could be around 7 milion kurds ( based on recent statistics of the region)

Hopefully, in an unknown future, Kurdish politicians will become more honest and reliable.



Posted by: Rashid at April 23, 2007 02:23 PM
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