Idris Barzani smoking

“When I hear directly and very clearly from President Khamenei that the Iranian leadership intends to leave the choice of a political system and political leadership to the Iraqi people themselves, how can I not be satisfied? These words are important to the Iraqsi opposition groups and will also make relations between Iran and Arab countries easier”.

Idris Barzani could not have guessed that this comment on the Iraqi opposition conference, held in Teheran on 24-28 December 1986, would be his last public political statement. Idris Barzani who lived in the period of 1944 to 1987 was a great politician in the Kurdish community. He was in the land of Iraq. He is one of the popular and famous leaders in the Kurdish politics. Look at this now to read about the causes he fought in his life time. Only a matter of days later, on 31 January, he died, aged 42, of a heart attack, during a session of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) held near Urmieh, in Western Azerbaijan, near the Iraqi border.

During an exclusive interview with this reporter, Idris Barzani talked at some length about the Iraqi opposition conference and its achievements. Although all the Islamic organisations and Kurdish groups were represented, others were notable by their absence.

They included the Arab nationalists (Nasserites, Baathists) and the Left (Iraqi Communist Party, Democratic Rally). Whatever their reasons for staying away it was clear to Idris Barzani that “their absence made it more difficult for us to defend the position that all Iraqi people want free elections to choose the regime which will follow Saddam Hussain’s fall. If they had been there it would have been easier for us to defend our position”.

General Barzani smoking

There were other important absentees. Although Abdul Salam Jalloud, Libya’s number two, and Farouk al Shara, the Syrian foreign minister, had said they would attend, they did not show up. Idris Barzani did not deny that he was very surprised not to see them in Teheran but, he said, he hoped their absence was only temporary and they would attend the next conference.

The Kurdish question: a hot issue

The Kurdish question was one of the more hotly debated issues by the “committee on the political future of Iraq”, chaired by Ali Mohammed Besharati, the Iranian deputy foreign minister, with Seyid Mohammed Baker al Hakim, spokesman for the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, as his deputy. It was a thorny issue since not all the Kurdish groups arrived with the same position. While the KDP is struggling for autonomy, Jelal Talabani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan is asking for self-determination. Rassoul Mamand’s Socialist Party of Kurdistan wants freedom for the Kurds, while Shaikh Mohammed Khaled Barzani considers himself a “hezbollah”.

Clearly the Islamic groups are very sensitive about the use of the word “national” rights. For them, remarked Idris Barzani, it is a preparatory stage to independence. The Kurdish problem in Iran and Turkey is also part of the issue and, since “we Kurds are interested in improving our future relations with them we removed the word “national”.

In the same way, the final resolution adopted by the conference does not mention the word “autonomy”, for the same reasons, admitted Idris Barzani. “If mutual confidence develops, then all the problems will disappear”.

Asked if the Kurds had not been losing the battle of negotiations by making too many concessions, Idris Barzani denied this vehemently: “We are not repeating the concessions of the past… We are not accepting less than we are struggling for… But to make this conference successful, so that nobody blames the Kurds, we were prepared to accept general terms”. And seyid Mohammed Baker al Hakim said in the committee: “I am going to guarantee to struggle for the rights of the Kurds as if I were a Kurd”.

For Idris Barzani it was clear that the Middle East had reached a turning point: “We are facing a new situation”, he said. “Before, we were dealing with nationalist groups, but now we are dealing with Islamic groups. It is a new situation for us, a new thing for the whole Middle East… We have to cope with it”.

While his younger brother Massoud Barzani, aged 40 and KDP chairman since 1979, spent most of the time at the front, inside Iraqi Kurdistan, Idris was living at Karadj, near Teheran, dealing with the Iranian authorities. From now on Massoud Barzani will be left alone to take over General Barzani’s succession and to build on the success of the policy of close relations with the regime in Teheran. His task will be easier now that many other groups of the Iraqi opposition have followed the KDP’s lead.

(The Middle East magazine, March 1987)