By HÎWA HÛSAMEDDÎN – Rudaw – 4 Feb 2015 – Kamal Kirkuk, a senior official of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and former speaker of parliament, has been fighting the Islamic State (ISIS) alongside the Peshmerga forces south of Kirkuk since last August. He spoke to Rudaw about the ISIS attack on Kirkuk last week, how it happened, Peshmerga losses and whether the oil-rich city still remains under threat. Here is an edited transcript of his comments:
Rudaw: How far is the Islamic State (ISIS) from Kirkuk and how far should they be in order for the city to feel safe?
Kamal Kirkuk: We should drive them out of the Kurdistan Region, only then will their threat be minimized. We should also drive out the people who disrespect us, like ISIS does. But for the moment we should push them back up to the crossroad of Oil Valley, which is 32 kilometers away from Kirkuk.
Rudaw: Can you promise that the events of January 29 will not be repeated?
Kamal Kirkuk: This is a war, and no one can give such a promise. ISIS is a fierce enemy. They have weapons and ammunition of the Iraqi army. They have seized a lot of money from the bank of Mosul and Raqqah in Syria and benefited from the oil in the region. We should not underestimate them. In addition to that, some Arabs in the region are supporting them. The only way is to push them out of the Kurdistan Region. But I can promise the people that we will be working day and night and we will be vigilant to remove the shortcomings. We are gathering information about our enemies and bombing their locations.
Rudaw: So the Arabs on the borders are also a threat?
Kamal Kirkuk: I would not say all of them, but some of them. For example, in the battles of a few days ago, some Arabs were shooting at the Peshmerga forces from behind. The Arabs brought ISIS units from the Khabaza side. We can hardly navigate in those areas while ISIS is moving fast like a bird in those areas.
Rudaw: Who was responsible for the ISIS attacks in Kirkuk?
Kamal Kirkuk: I would not accuse anyone. We are made up of two fronts next to each other. The brigades were mixed. Sherko Shwani led the First Brigade. When he was martyred our forces lost the momentum and ISIS was able to advance on that border. Then ISIS used armored vehicles to attack Tel al-Ward from Mala Abdullah. The Peshmerga forces became surrounded and they had to retreat. The bad weather was also a factor.
Rudaw: Were you aware that ISIS was advancing towards Kirkuk?
Kamal Kirkuk: Yes, we were well aware of that. I also informed the warplanes that ISIS was preparing armored vehicles and planning to attack, but it was in vain. This caused some tensions among us. I also have informed (commander) Sheikh Jaffar, the Minister of Peshmerga and his deputy that our fronts needed back up, but that was in vain as well.
Rudaw: Why did ISIS attack Kirkuk?
Kamal Kirkuk: ISIS has its own strategy. They say that they occupy the areas that have oil to impact the Middle East politics, which they have. They are trying in every way possible to capture Kirkuk, but the Peshmerga have thwarted their plans.
Rudaw: How could they reach inside Kirkuk?
Kamal Kirkuk: Many people entered Kirkuk under the pretext of being refugees and volunteers. Terrorists have infiltrated Kirkuk in this way. Those who attacked Kirkuk were such people and did not come from outside.
Rudaw: Does ISIS have sleeping cells in Kirkuk?
Kamal Kirkuk: Yes, I am sure of this. Great numbers of people entered Kirkuk recently and surely some of them were members of ISIS. To remove this threat the refugees must be moved to camps outside the city.
Rudaw: People claim that the Peshmerga forces are weak in Tel al-Ward front, which is why ISIS could advance from that direction.
Kamal Kirkuk: It is not like that. Tel al-Ward is located on various main roads from Hawija, Riyadh, and Rashad. These areas are controlled by ISIS. A high bridge on that border has become a major obstacle. But I assure the people of Kurdistan that they will not remain in that area.
Rudaw: This time ISIS came with many Kurdish members. Do you have any information about the number of Kurds inside ISIS?
Kamal Kirkuk: Not precisely. We could hear them speak Kurdish sometimes. They were even telling each other not to speak Kurdish sometimes. We don’t know how many Kurds have joined ISIS.
Rudaw: Who led this ISIS attack against Kirkuk?
Kamal Kirkuk: Four of their leaders were killed in this battle. Their commander was called Rammah and he was injured. He went into hiding and we are searching for him.
Rudaw: What do you think of the act of dragging the dead bodies of ISIS members in the streets of Kirkuk behind vehicles?
Kamal Kirkuk: I do not believe in fearing your enemy, but once your enemy becomes powerless you should treat him humanely. Even the prisoners should be treated rightly, and only told that they will be sent to court.
Rudaw: Would that act impact the name of the Kurds and the Peshmerga?
Kamal Kirkuk: This was a very ugly and inappropriate conduct. Nevertheless, it would not negatively impact the reputation of the Kurds, because the world knows that this was not a decision of the Kurdish leadership and government. The allies and other countries know how we deal with people and the mistake of one person should not be generalized over the whole nation. The Peshmerga want to protect this nation, prevent the spilling of blood. Certainly, we have not come to the battlefield to mistreat people.
Rudaw: Was the governor of Kirkuk in the city on that day?
Kamal Kirkuk: The governor has visited our fronts before and expressed all kinds of support, which we respect. But on the day of the attack mobile networks were either weak or not available. So we do not know whether he called us or not. But we have talked after that and he visited our forces after the battle.
Rudaw: What did the president of the Kurdistan Region say when he contacted you?
Kamal Kirkuk: The president is constantly checking the forces of Kirkuk and following up the activities. He was constantly trying to boost the morale of the Peshmerga forces during the days of battle. He was praising the Peshmerga and their commanders. He was sending his personal greetings to every one of them and he was very calm. But he was sad for the loss of Brigadier Shwani and he described him as one of his brothers.
Rudaw: The loss of two Kurdish commanders in that battle is an indicator of a weakness, is it not?
Kamal Kirkuk: According to the information I have, Brig. Shwani had been ordered to go to battle with the company of one regiment. But when got there he did not know that the base of that regiment was lost to ISIS. When he went there they were attacked. It was not a weakness. It’s a war and during wars people get killed and injured. But it was a big loss.
Rudaw: Do you support forming civil defense units in Kirkuk?
Kamal Kirkuk: No. We are totally against it. This is a crime against the people of Kurdistan and Iraq. Giving weapons to unknown people whom ISIS might have infiltrated is a great danger.
Rudaw: But there are civil defense units in Jalawla, Khurmatu, and Saadiya. Will they remain there?
Kamal Kirkuk: We have fought for those lands and some people have come and occupied them. When you shed blood for liberating every inch of a land, that land becomes yours. But when a group helps you in liberating it, that group would demand its share and it will stay there and consider it its right. So it is a mistake to get help from such a group. Those groups must leave the Kurdistan Region.
Rudaw: Will that cause problems?
Kamal Kirkuk: Let it be. The Kurds have been oppressed for a very long time and we have been forced to be part of Iraq, where we were gassed and mass-murdered. Then we were told that we were brothers with the Arabs, but even that was forced upon us. It was a lie and not true. The Kurds and the Arabs have different cultures, histories, language, land, and nature. If you say that this is not true, then I ask you, ‘which brother would kidnap his nieces and in-laws then sell them in a different country?’