‘I’m ready to sacrifice my soul for Kirkuk’ / By Hermione Gee
25-7-2014 – As Iraqi Kurds and Peshmerga attempt to consolidate their hold on Kirkuk, they are facing stiff resistence from ISIS fighters. DW spoke to the Iraqi federal police commander of the Kirkuk district about the situation. Brigadier General Sarhad Qadir is commander of the Kirkuk subdistrict for the Iraqi federal police. The first part of the interview was conducted at a lookout post outside the town of Taza.
DW: Can you tell me where we are and what we’re looking at?
Sarhad Qadir: The Islamic State fighters are over there, under those trees – about 500 meters away. We don’t know how many are there, but they have heavy weapons. They stay there, and we stay here. Sometimes, they shell us, but usually neither of us wants to start fighting. They control thousands of kilometers in Iraq now, and this is one of their frontlines.
This area around Taza is a Shia Turkmen area and we want to make sure the residents are protected [from the Sunni militants]. We have ambushes set up and the Peshmerga [Kurdish armed forces – the ed] are also here so they can’t come any further.
There are a mixture of all different militant groups in this area – radical Islamists and Sunni tribes, as well as foreign fighters.
How long have you been working for the Iraqi police in Kirkuk?
I’m originally from Kirkuk, but before 2003, I worked in Erbil. I came back to Kirkuk the day the US army entered the city with the Peshmerga in 2003.
What has your job been like over the past 10 years?
Since 2004, I’ve had a lot of experience fighting terrorists. I’d had experience fighting as a Peshmerga, but it’s very different from being a Peshmerga fighting the Iraqi army because the militants use suicide bombings and similar tactics.
It’s a dangerous job. I have been fighting the terrorists and the terrorists have been fighting us, but I don’t give up.
I’ve lost 340 of my officers. I lost a lot of people – my brother, other relatives, my bodyguards and my close friends. I’ve been targeted many times by the militants, using car bombs and suicide attacks, and I’ve been injured 13 times.
My family and friends are always asking me to give up this job; they want me to retire or work somewhere else because this job is so dangerous, but I’m ready to sacrifice my soul for Kirkuk.
How long have you been fighting Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) forces?
In the past, we didn’t have ISIS in this area, but there were al Qaeda fighters here. ISIS has come in the last few years. The difference is that ISIS just wants to fight. Al Qaeda tends to use suicide bombers. ISIS does carry out some suicide attacks, but usually suicide bombers are al Qaeda. ISIS fights for an ideology, and they fight to die; they don’t care about death. Soldiers are different. Look at the Iraqi army – they had good weapons, good fighters, but as we saw [in June, when ISIS launched its campaign on Mosul, and Tikrit], they just abandoned their posts and left.
Did you know that ISIS was planning to take over Mosul?
We had information that ISIS was in Mosul, and we’d already seen them take over Fallujah and other areas in Anbar province, so we weren’t surprised. What was a surprise for us was that the Iraqi army didn’t fight. We didn’t see any resistance from the army. Here, we fight all day if we have to, and we might lose some men, but we fight. Compared to us, the army is well equipped and has great weapons, but they just fled.
Are ISIS forces well-trained? Are they good fighters or were they just lucky that the Iraqi soldiers fled instead of fighting back?
They had good weapons to start with and now they’ve taken all the Iraqi weapons, too, from the police and from the army. ISIS also has a lot of fighters from different countries. They go to a place and the tribal people support them, so their numbers are increasing.
There are two powers in the world right now: the power of the US and the power of ISIS and terrorist groups. But once things stabilize, we’ll start to see fighting between the different Sunni groups, between ISIS and the local Sunni tribes and other Sunni militia.
What is your sense of the ISIS leader, Abu Bakhr al Baghdadi?
Abu Bakhr al Baghdadi is a good leader – a strong leader – and he has a powerful organization; we can’t dismiss him. ISIS also has experienced fighters and experienced officers; it has good information and its fighters know how to use their weapons. They are also very good at educating or brainwashing their recruits. So we can’t underestimate al Baghdadi – he has to be taken seriously.
What do you expect to happen in Iraq in the near future? Will ISIS continue to make gains across Iraq?
Things are changing so quickly. If there isn’t a political solution, things will get much worse. Look at Syria – it’s just getting worse. The Iraqi army might be able to retake control of some areas but we don’t know yet who’ll be the winner in the end. Without a political situation, the fighting will just go on.
What do you expect to see happen in Kirkuk?
ISIS and al Qaeda are the biggest threat to Kirkuk. The problem is that their aim is to create chaos here. We are fighting for stability in the area, but they want to make things worse, particularly between the different ethnic groups in Kikuk – the Kurds, the Arabs and the Turkmen.
Hundreds of people are kidnapped every year by terrorists in this area – they might be Kurds, or they might not be. But regardless of whether they are Arabs or Kurds or Turkmen, we do our best to rescue them. I’m the director of police for the sub-district of Kirkuk. I’m not the director of police for the Kurds or the Arabs or the Turkmen. It’s my duty to protect everyone.