May 1, 2007

Transcript of Interview with Peshmerga Colonel Salahdin

Below is a transcript of my video interview with Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga Colonel Salahdin Ahmad Ameen. Most of the questions were edited out of the video, so they aren’t present in the transcript either. Questions were only included when they were necessary for context.

Kak Salah.jpg
Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga Colonel Salahdin Ahmad Ameen

Salahdin: March 11, 1974, the war started between Saddam’s army and our Peshmerga. It was a very tough time – all the time killing, capturing, and…war. It was a war. A big war between us.

For missions we were coming to attack by night Iraqi positions or Iraqi posts, Iraqi bases, around the city and inside the city. But in the day time we were not coming to attack.

During the Anfal campaign we fought Saddam’s army when they came, but the forces they used, we could not defend ourselves from them. It was very huge numbers of army with all kinds of weapons, with chemical weapons. If we defended some place and they could not seize that place, at last they used chemical weapons.

I think all the people of America, or somewhere, they think they used chemical weapons in Halabja only. But I can tell you tens of villages and places where they used chemical weapons. But the number of casualties in Halabja was [so] high, five thousand. In Sosinan here, in Kara Dagh, with chemical weapons they killed 106 people. They killed…everywhere on the front line when they could not capture any position from us, straight they used chemical weapons against us and after that they came.

One day we captured Kara Dagh town from them, from the Iraqi army. We liberated Kara Dagh. They wanted to come to Kara Dagh and occupy it again. But we defended [ourselves from] them. We had some mortars, we were mortaring them. They could not…

After that, four big jets came and threw something white. We never saw it. Big white boxes coming down from the sky. When it exploded there was no sound from it. Only a faint sound. After that, there was a smell coming like…a bad egg. Some people were wounded by it, their bodies became blistered. But we were a little far from it. We smelled it.

“We Were 300”

We were traveling between the – we were about 300 Peshmerga – traveling from Kara Dagh to Halabja area because we wanted sometimes to show ourselves to our people and make their morale higher and higher and higher. We were traveling among the villages between Halabja and Sesara, near Halabja. There is a plain area.

At night someone came to us and gave us information that the Iraqi army was collecting its forces to attack. There is a good place we chose called Zam. It has thick bush, big trees, and a swamp area where it’s not good for tanks or something to come through it. There were four villages near to each other in that area. We distributed our forces, 300 Peshmerga, in those four villages.

In the morning the attack came. Later we were informed that it was a brigade of Iraqi army. And we were 300. A brigade of Iraqi army supported by artillery, mortars, helicopters, and some of the Kurds who were cooperating with them, about 2000 Kurds who were – we call them Jash and you call them mercenaries.

The attack started in the morning. It was dark still. We were ready for them. The first blast of fire we killed 14 of them and took their weapons. We came back to the villages and we had good places for defending ourselves. At 3:00 they started withdrawing. We found that we killed 38 of them, five of them officers. We seized 14 pieces of weapons from them. And our casualties were one Peshmerga. A shrapnel from the helicopters from when they were shooting rockets at us, shrapnel hit his backbone. He is now paralyzed. He’s in Sweden now.

We were surrounded. And we could defend ourselves and make heavy casualties among them. And we had…one person wounded.

MJT: Did Saddam’s soldiers ever surrender to you?

Salahdin: Yes, of course.

MJT: How were they treated?

Salahdin: We treated them like human beings. We did not treat them like…if they captured one of us they would kill him straight on the spot. Not only Saddam’s soldiers. We know they were sons of poor people. They were obliged to come and fight us. But we should defend ourselves, also.

Even when we captured the mercenaries, the Kurdish traitors, also we worked with them. When someone was wounded we took care of him. We had no jails. We kept him for a while, talked to him, talked to him about good things so when he goes back [he can say] good things about us. And we would release him.

We never killed anyone [who] surrendered or [that we captured], was wounded, or something like that.

There were some Arabs among us. Maybe they were soldiers and they stayed with us and became Peshmerga. Some Arab soldiers came. Many of them were killed in the battles with Saddam Hussein.

Abu Ghraib

Abu Ghraib prison is a very notorious prison. I think [unintelligible] was better than Abu Ghraib.

When we entered, we were about 100 prisoners going to Abu Ghraib. There were many hundreds of people standing in a row. When we reached them, all of them started beating us, kicking us. That was the welcome.

When they put you in the prison, in your ward, every day they came and made excuses to beat you. They ask you, what’s your problem, why are you in jail? If you say I am a political prisoner, they will take you to the office of the security there and hang you and torture you as they torture in the intelligence [offices]. You should say I am a terrorist. Not a political [prisoner].

One day during the Iran/Iraq war in 1979 when Iran was uprising against the Shah, I had small radio. I was listening to the BBC for news. The security officer for the jail came and said, what’s that you are listening to? I said it’s news from the BBC. He said why, we have no broadcasting stations, you are listening to BBC? Come with me.

He took me to the office and hanged me upside down and beat under my feet with thick cable until I became unconscious three times. They pour water on and you become conscious and they start beating you [again]. I fainted three times and later they took me back to my room.

They were capturing people, young people, from the cities, and taking them prisoner. Why? They wanted to frighten the people, to remind them every time, taking many people to jail and make them hungry and thirsty. When they came back they were only skin and bones. To frighten the people not to do anything against Saddam, not to say a bad thing against Saddam.

In Iraq, especially in the south of Iraq, in one family no one trusts…even inside one family the father doesn’t trust his son [enough] to say something bad against Saddam. Maybe his son will go and announce him to the authority of Saddam Hussein. It was a bad time. Even those who were loyal to Saddam Hussein could not say no to Saddam.

Weapon of Mass Destruction

The Kissinger Betrayal was in 1974. He mediated between the Shah of Iran and Saddam Hussein and…of course it made us very upset at America at that time. But in 2003 we forgot everything about the past. And we are thankful.

A big number of people criticize Mr. Bush that he attacked Iraq without reason, that there are no weapons of mass destruction here. Saddam Hussein himself was a weapon of mass destruction.

Mass destruction…what does a nuclear weapon do when it hits a country? Of course it kills hundreds of thousands of people, ruins the country, and makes the wilderness obliterated.

Saddam Hussein destroyed 5,000 villages in our country. He filled up the water springs and the wells with concrete. He even deprived the birds and wild animals from drinking water in our mountains. He dried the marshes and swamplands in the south of Iraq which was the source of life for the people of that area. I am not just talking about Halabja, I am talking about thousands of villages in the south and north of Iraq which were destroyed by Saddam. The infrastructure of the area was destroyed by Saddam Hussein. It was worse than a nuclear weapon. Saddam Hussein himself was a WMD.

Should Kurdistan Declare Independence?

If we declare our independence we need a superpower like the US to be backing us. But maybe they will back us for two or three years and later they go back and leave us alone. And at that time, do you know what will happen to us?

There are all around us enemies. The national Islamists in Turkey. The national Islamists in Iran. And the Arab Nationalists in 22 Arab countries. They will attack us. They could swallow us in one day.

The Arabs call us a Second Israel all the time. They instigate their people [and say we] want to make a Second Israel here in the middle of their area. We are not as strong as Israel to defend ourselves from our enemies all around.

I like working with Americans all the time. Our first aid, first help, was from the Americans. When President Bush declared the war on Iraq it was truly…we forgot all our bitter experience with America [in the] past.

MJT: What will happen if the United States withdraws from Iraq next year?

Salahdin: I don’t think they are withdrawing.

MJT: What will happen to Kurdistan if it happens?

Salahdin: If it happens, there will be a civil war in Iraq, especially in the south of Iraq. It will be very bad. It will affect us also.

Of course, we are not participating in that battle between the Shia and [Sunni]. Our religion…we are Muslims. Sunnis. And Shia also, there are Kurdish Shia. But we are Kurdish before we are Muslims. We don’t care about the argument between Sunni and Shia. That’s not our…I don’t think we participate in that. Never.

I ask [Americans] not to leave us. All the time we have been frustrated from the pledges and help from America as we saw in 1974, 1920, and…from 1920 until now we have been frustrated and disappointed from their pledges and promises. Eight times we have been disappointed. I ask the American people, not make it nine times.

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Posted by Michael J. Totten at May 1, 2007 10:57 PM
Winner, The 2007 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

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