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Iranian Kurdish Resistance: A Key U.S. Ally in the War against the Islamic State

After the Sunday, December 20, 2015 Lisa Benson show, we caught up with  US Army  Brig. Gen. (ret.) Ernie Audino. See our December 2015 NER Interview with him, “No War Against ISIS Without the Kurds”.  There was  a swirl of rumors and a buzz in the parliament of the Kurdish  Regional Government in Erbil about the alleged death of Islamic State self-styled Caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi at the hands of Peshmerga, the alleged death of Quds Force  commander, Gen. Soliemani and Ayatollah Khamenei on his death bed.  To which Audino said,  this has to be confirmed.    We  would add in Hebrew, Alevai,” it should only be.”

US Army Brig. Gen. (ret.) Ernie Audino, kneeling center

US Army Brig. Gen. (ret.) Ernie Audino, kneeling center with Kurdish Peshmerga.

Audino, steadfast  American  supporter of the Kurds  and various peshmerga forces in the KRG , adjacent  Syria and Iran was in the process of finishing a Washington Times (WT) column on why the Kurds have Christmas  trees.

However,  of more compelling  interest was  the Tehran push-back against his previous WT column , last Tuesday, December 15, 2015, “Friends of US in Iran. ”   Audino’s  tag line was “Sons of the Kurdish Republic are ready to fight Islamic terrorism.”It was about  arming the three Iranian Kurdish resistance groups in northwest Iran  that continue to bedevil the Islamic Regime in Tehran. This despite the fall of the short-lived Kurdish Republic, formed with support of the then Soviet Union in 1946. It was  headed by its President Qazi Muhammad, who was captured by Iranian troops,  tried for treason and hanged  by the last Shah of Iran in March 1947.  Audino wrote:

“If the [Tehran] regime had more to worry about internally, it would have less appetite for external adventures,” said a senior source in one of the three major Kurdish opposition groups active in Iran and looking to the West for aid. He makes an important point — much of the Sunni-Arab support for the Islamic State, or ISIS, is motivated by the threat of an increasing, Iranian-Shia influence in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and portions of Saudi Arabia.

Tehran has feared no international sanction,” the same source added, “That is why it felt free to violently crush the weeks-long demonstration in the city of Mahabad in May.” Those protests erupted in the Kurdish-populated city in northwestern Iran after a young, Kurdish woman leapt to her death while reportedly trying to escape an attempted rape by an Iranian intelligence officer. “And if we look back to the popular demonstrations in Tehran in 2009,” he continued, “they had potential to ignite a Persian Spring, but no one assisted them. The USA looked the other way while Tehran attacked protesters and shut down the social media the crowds were using to coordinate their actions.”

Still, the members of his group and those of the other two groups keep alive the famed, blood-deep, Kurdish refusal to submit. Case in point; the Kurdistan Freedom Party of Iran (PAK). Elements of it have recently entered Iraq to help in the fight against ISIS, and the PAK leader, Hussein Yazdanpana, is personally commanding their operations on the battlefield.

His group isn’t alone. The Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (PDKI) bases 1,000 of its own peshmerga near Koya in the Kurdish north ofIraq. “They have helped fight ISIS. We can arm another 2,000 if needed,” asserted Arash Saleh, PDKI representative to the United States.

The Komala Party of Iranian Kurdistan is involved, too. “Our peshmerga are fighting alongside other Kurdish and coalition forces near Kirkuk,” said a proud Abdullah Mohtadi, the party’s secretary-general, “and we are doing so to defend Kurdistan and humanity against the evil force of Islamic terrorism.”

Iranian Kurdish Resistance Fighters

Iranian Kurdish Resistance Fighters Source:  Rudaw Kurdish News Agency.

As if to deny Audino’s WT assessment about Iranian Kurdish resistance, the Kurdish news agency Rudaw  reported on Saturday, December 19, 2015, alleged denials by the head of the Iranian parliament national security committee, “Iran says armed Kurdish groups are not ’serious’ security threat:”

The head of the Iranian parliament’s national security committee has said he does not see the armed Kurdish groups opposed to Tehran as a threat to the Islamic Republic.

“These groups are active in border regions and we do not view them as serious security threats,” said lawmaker Mohammad Reza Mohseni, who is also in charge of parliament’s foreign relations committee.

He told the Iranian media that the country is not “under any security threats.”

Referring to the Party of Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK), the main remaining armed Kurdish opposition group, Mohseni said those fighters were operating sporadically in the border areas, which he dismissed as “nothing new.”

PJAK, which is believed to have close ties with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), said in August that its forces had killed 20 Iranian soldiers in an attack on a border military post.

Tehran dismissed the claim, but confirmed that remote military bases had been attacked. The assault effectively ended a unilateral cease-fire, which PJAK had declared in 2011.

Note this exchange with Gen. Audino from our interview with him about the demise of the Kurdish Republic of Mahabad:

Gordon:  After WWII, the Russians established a short-lived Kurdish Republic in Mahabad, Iran, who among Kurdish leaders was involved and what caused its demise?

Audino:  Tehran caused its demise.

So long as large numbers of Soviet troops remained on the ground in Iran at the time, 1946, the conditions were favorable for the realization of the Kurdish dream, an independent state of their own. When Iranian troops were pushed away from the Kurdish-populated city of Mahabad, the time was ripe. The well-educated and well-respected Qazi Muhammad was elected to serve as president of the Mahabad Republic, history’s first and only sovereign, Kurdish state. Knowing he needed a capable army to protect the state he requested help from the great Kurdish nationalist, Mustafa Barzani, who showed up with 5000 of his peshmerga. During this period, a son was born to Barzani who named him, Masud. That son is now Masud Barzani, the current President of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq.

The Soviets couldn’t stay forever, and when they pulled out the Iranian troops moved in. Qazi Muhammad stepped forward and offered his life to save the residents of the city. Iranian troops seized Mahabad on 15 December, 1946. The Republic had lasted exactly one year. A few months later on March 31, 1947 Qazi Muhammad  was hanged above Mahabad’s central square, Chwar Chira.

Watch this You Tube video with English subtitles with the stirring call to Kurdish resistance in the final address by Maahbad Kurdish Republic President Qazi Muhammad:

We have written about PJAK Iranian women fighters in the battle of Sinjar Mountain.  According to the CIA Fact Book, there are an estimated  8.1 million Iranian Kurds, mostly in the mountainous areas adjoining the Iraqi Kurdish Regional  Government. Qazi Muhammad’s valiant  ringing endorsement of Kurdish resistance in Iran as well as the adjacent areas in Turkey, Syria and Iraq have resounded through the generations since the fall of the Mahabad Republic and his death. It is captured in the  legendary comments of an Iranian Kurdish resistance leader; “ they may control the day, but we control at night”.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review.

Commemorating the 1951 Jewish Expulsion from Iraq

Yesterday in Erbil, the Kurdistan Regional Government commemorated the expulsion of 25,000 Jewish Kurds by the Iraqi National government in April 1951.  They were among an estimated 125,000 Iraqi Jews who walked or flew on the Biblical wings of eagles in a massive airlift to Israel in Operation Ezra and Nehemiah.  Their properties, assets, funds were expropriated by the Iraqi government that some estimate were worth several billion in current dollars of account.

jewishkurdexpulsionfromiraq

Sherzad Omar Mamsani, Jewish Representative at Kurdistan Regional Religious Affairs Ministry.

The largest contingent were the Baghdadi or Babylonian Jews, while Kurdish Jews were the smallest contingent of the mass expulsion after having resided more than 2,700 years in both the Assyrian and  Babylonian captivities.  The Babylonian Jews produced the great rabbinic commentaries in the Talmud and other works that are studied daily in Yeshivas in Israel and the Jewish Diaspora.

Iraqi Jewish emigrants to Israel and the West have made major contributions to the establishment and growth of the modern State of Israel.  While initially opposed to Zionism, following The Farhud, the Arab Nazi-inspired  pogrom in June 1941, and especially, after the invasion by Iraq of the embryonic State of Israel in the 1948 1949 War of Independence and issuance of expropriations and expulsion orders, Iraq’s Jews  realized that Israel was the only sanctuary and made arrangements to leave en mass.   We have written of that in our NER interviews with Dr. Harold Rhode, whom we dubbed “the savior “of the Babylonian Jewish archives.

During the preparation for our NER interview  with US Army  Brig. Gen. (ret.)  Ernie Audino published in the December 2015 NER, he recommended  reading  a remarkable memoir of one Kurdish Jewish family from Zakho in Kurdistan  near the Turkish border, My Father’s Paradise: A Son’s Search  for his Father’s Past  by Ariel Sabar.  Saber’s book discusses his family’s integration in Israel. Noteworthy is the chronicle of  Saber’s father  who earned  degrees at both Hebrew and Yale Universities becoming a  full professor at UCLA and world recognized expert in the lingua franca spoken by Kurdish Jews, neo-Aramaic.

While heretofore little was known about the Kurdish Jews who arrived in Israel in 1951, more became known as the descendants of this wave of enforced emigration after arriving in Israel. It is estimated that Israel has more than 200,000 citizens of Kurdish Jewish origins, with 100,000 living in greater Jerusalem, alone.

Yesterday’s commemoration in Erbil was reported by AFP/ Arutz Israel National News and the RUDAW Kurdish news agency.   The AFP/ Arutz Sheva National News  article ,”Jewish Kurds hold groundbreaking Iraq commemoration:”

In the Kurdish autonomous, region in northern Iraq, a ceremony was held on Monday to mark the deportation of Jews from Iraq seven decades ago, AFP reports.

The event also marked the beginning of Jewish representation at Kurdistan region’s Religious Affairs Ministry, which is the result of a law passed in May to promote minority rights. “The law says that if there was one person from the followers of any religion, his rights are preserved,” said Sherzad Omar Mamsani, the Jewish representative at the Kurdish Regional Ministry.

The ceremony in the regional capital Erbil was attended by Kurds of Jewish origin and officials who also visited an exhibition of old photographs and records documenting Iraqi Jewry.

According to Mamsani, the ceremony is the first of its kind and marks what is known as theFarhud, the dispossession that led to the exodus and deportation of Jews from Iraq.

Mamsani, who has Jewish origins, said he estimated that the families who self-identify as Jews in Kurdistan but are still officially registered to as Muslims numbered around 400. He added that the number of families who converted to Islam but “are Jews in origin” was in the thousands.

Zach Huff, an American researcher living in Israel and specializing in Kurdish affairs, said he hoped Monday’s ceremony was the start of a Jewish revival in the Iraqi region of Kurdistan. “There are about 200,000 Kurds living in Israel and close to 100,000 living in and around Jerusalem,” he toldAFP.

“They do actually long to connect with their roots in Kurdistan even if they’re second or third generation,” Huff said. “They see that Kurdistan is open and welcoming them with open arms.”

“I do predict that there will be a lot more business, tourism and a closer relationship in the near future between Jewish Kurds and the people of Kurdistan,” Huff said.

There is no active synagogue in the region but Mamsani has said he hoped that would change soon.

Watch this RUDAW news video of the Kurdistan commemoration, Kurdistan celebrates Kurdish Jews.

The following is an excerpt from Saber’s  My Father’s Paradise pp. 104-105 describing the family’s experience on the day of expulsion, April 16, 1951 for Iraq’s Jews:

The end arrived suddenly. A line of motor coaches rolled into town early one April [1951] morning, and word went out that the time had come. Under a sky still full of stars , Jewish families , anxious and bleary, dragged suitcases and children out front doors and into the cramped  alleys that led to the main street.  As they crossed the bridge to the bus stop, they saw that another crowd had gotten there first: Hundreds of Muslims had lined the streets to bid their neighbors farewell.  Old women raised cries of li-li-li-li-li, ululating as if a loved one had died. One beggar –beloved of the townspeople, though he was slightly mad- pounded his head had against a newly erected electric pole. “Where  are my brothers going!” he shrieked, until people crowded in to console him. “Why are they forsaking us?” Buses carried the [Zakho’s]Jews to Mosul, and trains carried them to Baghdad. At the airport, angry mobs pressed against the barricades hurling curses. “Die kilab yahud!” “Rot in Hell” “Be gone!”  It was April 16, 1951. Miryam flinched at the ugly words and pulled her children against her skirt as crowds of departing Jews pressed in from all sides. A few hours later, the Bah Saba has reached the checkpoint where guards searched bodies and luggage for contraband”.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in the New English Review.