Mohammad Haji Mahmud, the commander of the Kurdish militia groups of the Peshmer in the Kurdish autonomy of Iraq, is convinced that America, Saudi Arabia and Turkey were involved in assisting ISIL, and the emergence of a terrorist group was the result of miscalculations in these countries.
The attack of the Islamic State on the Sunni areas of Iraq and the lightning-fast success of this group in terms of capturing some of the most important cities in the area, including Mosul, put analysts and political analysts a lot of questions about the reasons for the victorious march of terrorists in Iraq and ineffective actions of the country's army to repel Igilovs . All these questions are offered a variety of answers. In particular, most often we hear about the version of some experts about the betrayal of the command of the Iraqi army and the city administration of Mosul.
Many analysts also talk about the role of the Kurdish autonomy of Iraq in confronting ISIS. To clarify this issue, the IRNA Information Agency of the Islamic Republic of Iran interviewed the Peshmerga commander in Kirkuk Mohammad Haji Mahmoud.
Speaking about the reasons for the unexpected appearance of the “Islamic State” in Iraq, Haji Mahmoud admitted that the rapid capture of a large part of the country by igilovtsy was caused by problems associated with the erroneous policies of the Baghdad government, contradictions with the Sunni and Kurdish population, and support for this terrorist group parties to some countries in the region.
According to the Kurdish commander, the armed forces stationed in Mosul were represented mainly by Iraqi Sunnis who are not at war with the igilovites. This Shiite city also housed the high command of the army and security services, which, together with some units loyal to the government, were forced to retreat.
Referring to the reasons why the ISIL terrorists decided not to continue the attack on Baghdad and moved to the Kurdish autonomy of Iraq, the Pesmerga commander argues that during the attempts of the Islamic State to take the capital, one very important meeting was held in Beirut Sunni, tribal nobility, Ba'athists, igilovtsy and some representatives of the Iraqi Shiite Arabs. At this meeting, it was decided to abandon the offensive against Baghdad and instead launch an offensive against Kurdistan.
Below is a detailed text of the conversation with Haji Mahmoud.
IRNA: ISIS has been operating in Iraq for over a year and a half. In less than one week, this grouping captured almost 40% of the country's territory in the provinces of Ninawa, Salah al-Din and Anbar. One of the most important questions that arises in connection with this concerns the reasons for the unexpected appearance of this group and the presence of such powerful reserves. What do you think about this?
Mohammad Haji Mahmoud: ISIS was formed in the depths of Al-Qaida, and then it was disconnected from it. At some stage, some states and separate active groups, wishing to weaken Al-Qaida and destroy it from the inside, attempted to separate the Islamic State from it. To weaken Al-Qaida’s regional power, they sided with ISIS.
In 2009, they singled out a group headed by Abu Omar Al-Baghdadi. A few years later, he was killed by the US military near Baghdad. The then US president held a conference with the leaders of the Arab tribes of Iraq. They asked America to help them with money and weapons for the war with al-Qaeda, and their request was fulfilled. But in reality they did not start fighting with Al-Qaida and other extremist groups. In fact, the name of Al-Qaida was changed to Sahwa. That is, the same Al-Qaida militants received American weapons in their hands only under another name.
From 2009 to 2012, they were engaged in their own organization and strength building. The Arab Spring has led to a large-scale destabilization of the situation in the region. When these events spread across northern Africa (Tunisia, Libya, Morocco and Egypt) and reached Syria and Iraq, the activities of these terrorist groups became more pronounced. They began to apply their current methods and became known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which is now known throughout the world. At this point, various countries, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and the United States, began to actively cooperate with them and provide them with significant assistance, so that in a short period of time they would overthrow the government of Bashar al-Assad in Syria.
Then financial and military assistance began to fall into the hands of ISIS on an even larger scale. Soon, this grouping, capturing part of the Syrian territory, including the province of Rakku, had at its disposal a large number of warehouses with weapons. True, the events in Syria began to develop in such a way that with the hope of a quick overthrow of Bashar al-Assad, we had to say goodbye, and serious contradictions arose between the states supporting the igilovtsevs. All this has led to the fact that the goals of ISIL in Iraq have changed. When the Sunni population of Iraq came out against the government of Nuri Al-Maliki, an igilovtsev had an excellent opportunity to take advantage of this growing conflict between the Sunnis and the Shiite government.
As soon as a kind of vacuum of security and stability arose in the Sunni regions of Iraq, the Sunnis tried to make the most of the situation. Of course, it must be emphasized that all Sunni Arabs should not be considered ISIS members, but all members of this group profess Sunni Islam. On the territory of compact residence of the Sunni population of Iraq was one of the strongest parts of the country's armed forces, consisting of four divisions with a total of 60 thousand people and two police battalions of 30 thousand people. That is, a total of 90 thousand soldiers and police officers, armed with the latest weapons, were deployed there. In Mosul, they had mostly American weapons. However, thanks to the preparatory work of the Sunni Arabs, this huge army was scattered like smoke. Most of these people refused to fight ISIS, which in a short period of time managed to establish its control over Mosul. At the same time, the igilovites received at least 1 tanks and Hammer armored vehicles, as well as artillery mounts, heavy machine guns and a significant number of shells. The retreat and collapse of the Iraqi army and the requisition by terrorists of most of its weapons helped ISIS militants, after taking Mosul, confidently and quickly head towards the cities of Tikrit and Baiji and thus establish their control over an impressive part of the territory of Iraq.
If you don’t go into details, the essence is that the mistakes of the Iraqi authorities against the background of their continuing contradictions with the Sunnis and the Kurds, as well as the support of the “Islamic state” by some countries in the region created the conditions for this grouping in less than a few days captured the colossal size of Iraq. America, Saudi Arabia and Turkey also contributed to helping the terrorists, so we can say that the emergence of ISIL was the result of gross political miscalculations in these countries. All these factors led to the fact that in a short period of time, the Islamic State was able to subjugate the order of 35-40% of the total territory of Iraq.
- You mentioned that when igilovtsy attacked Mosul, 90 thousands of Iraqi soldiers and policemen were deployed in the city. However, we know that there were very few militants. Until now, the very important question remains unanswered as to why a well-armed army, with its numerical superiority, was defeated by a small ISIS army and decided to leave the city? What was the secret of the victory of the igilovtsy over the government forces and how did they manage to capture Mosul so quickly?
- The military units stationed in Mosul were mostly staffed by Iraqi Sunnis who, by the way, did not want to fight with ISIS. At the same time, the local command of the army units and security forces was among the Shiites, and it was it, along with some units that remained loyal to the Iraqi government, who was forced to retreat from the city. From Mosul they went to Kurdistan, and from there to the regions of compact Shiite Arabs.
In the city of Tall – Afar, too, there were about three thousand Turkmen Shiites, who offered quite serious resistance, but they also eventually entered the city of Khanakin via the Kurdistan Region and then retreated from there to Baghdad. All other military formations located in Mosul and other cities, without any resistance, surrendered to igilovtsam. In other words, we should slightly change our view on ISIS. The Islamic State did not conquer Mosul, Baiji, Jalaulu and other settlements. The fact is that the residents themselves, who are committed to Sunnism and do not support the policies of the Shiite authorities, achieved the withdrawal of their cities from the control of those loyal to the central government of the armed forces and took power into their own hands.
“Meanwhile, some critics accuse the then Prime Minister of the country Nuri Al-Maliki. Recently, the Iraqi parliament even called him the main culprit in the capture of the igilovtsami Mosul. How did the policies of Maliki and senior political leadership in Baghdad affect the growth of the crisis in Iraq and the emergence of ISIS?
- Naturally, the actions of different people influenced the escalation of the crisis in Iraq and the destabilization of the situation in the country. However, all can not be reduced to the erroneous policy of an individual. This is a confessional and ethnic war that has lasted in Iraq for all of the past years.
Two years before the emergence of ISIL, on average 100 people died every day in clashes and conflicts between Shiites and Sunnis in Baghdad, and the distance between the two confessions increased steadily. Even within the same government, politicians from different areas of Islam put forward the most harsh accusations against each other and came up with very offensive nicknames. It was then that the prerequisites were created for the emergence of the “Islamic State” and the start of a new phase of crisis in Iraq. Errors and wrong policies of the authorities, their thoughtless and half-hearted decisions made the process even more aggravated. In this regard, it would be advisable to refer to the example of Egypt. In this country, the Muslim Brotherhood movement 70 has been waiting for its coming to power for years, and finally, their wish has come true. However, all problems began when President Mohammed Mursi, an ardent supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, decided to avenge all the oppressions that his supporters and other Islamists had suffered during the past 70 years. In other words, the Muslim Brotherhood was too quick to get their hands on various authorities, and in the end they were completely fiascoed.
Unfortunately, the same thing happened in Iraq. Part of the Shiites, who for many years were under the yoke of past governments, hastened to compensate for past losses. This led to the growth of contradictions between the various factions and prevented the formation of political interaction in Iraq. I have to admit that the Iraqi Shiites, just like the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, because of their actions, have lost the unique opportunity to retain power. Maliki had a certain weight in politics, but the events at that time had a completely different scale, so one person could not do anything.
Of course, the former prime minister made many mistakes. At the same time, it must not be forgotten that, firstly, there were a lot of obstacles in his way, and, secondly, he took a number of measures that deserve a certain attention. For example, by his order disarmed Jaish Al Mahdi and some other armed militant groups. Maliki also signed the death penalty order for the former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Of course, it was clear that the former prime minister did not want to establish constructive relations with the Kurds or other ethnic groups in Iraq.
- After ISIL quickly captured Mosul, Tikrit, Tall Afar and some other cities, it launched an offensive on Baghdad on several fronts, and then, being a few kilometers from the capital, it unexpectedly changed its course. Following this, the Islamic State sent troops to Kurdistan and the regions of Sinjar, Saadia, Kirkur, Jalauly and Hankina. It is still unknown about the true reasons for such an unexpected change in the strategy of terrorists. Why did the Igilovites decide to conquer Baghdad and continue their offensive against Kurdistan? How do you rate this decision? Indeed, even before this, representatives of ISIL unofficially stated that they were fighting not with the Kurds, but with the central government and Shiites. How is it that the Kurds have become enemies of the "Islamic state"?
- To answer this question, you need to go back a bit into the past. I note that these so-called radical groups, including Al-Qaeda, ISIL, and Dzhebhat Al-Nusru, were mostly created by foreign states, which over time, under the changed conditions, lost their control over them and later regretted that helped them get on their feet. For example, Al-Qaida was created with the money of Saudi Arabia, with the help of the secret services of Pakistan and the direct participation of America in order to counter the armed forces of the USSR in Afghanistan. However, ten years after its formation and the withdrawal of Soviet troops, such groups lost their patrons in the eyes of their patrons and were left to themselves.
Something similar happened to ISIS. Some states, such as the United States, sought to create a moderate Islamist group in the depths of Iraq’s Al-Qaida and make it independent, which would weaken Al-Qaida itself. However, in fact, the “Islamic State” has become an even more formidable force. So much so that in special cases, Al-Qaida even renounced the actions of its former members. Despite this, the United States and some other countries are still pursuing the same separation strategy, but within the ISIL itself. However, we all know that in this way the problem cannot be solved. Against the background of a serious confrontation between the “Islamic state” and the rest of the Arab groups, it should be recognized that there are such associations that prepare the ground for a kind of dialogue and interaction between various groups of Arabs, including Shiites and Sunnis. Now, answering the question of why ISIS unexpectedly changed its strategy in Iraq and decided to attack the Kurds, it is necessary to say that this happened for several reasons.
Some members of the Arab factions were convinced that the Kurds are actually allies of America in the region, and it is because of them that it maintains its presence here. Some even considered the growing influence of the Kurds an even greater danger to the central government of Iraq. Part of the authoritative Sunni leaders in the Islamic State, among other things, stated that the war with the central government and the Shiites ultimately is a war between the Arabs themselves, and the Kurds do not belong to the Arabs and therefore the real danger comes from them. The efforts of the Kurds, aimed at gaining independence and secession from Iraq, and ideas about the future of the disputed territories that were later conquered by the igilovites, further strengthened the position of anti-Kurdish activists. In the midst of the campaign of ISIS detachments to Baghdad in Beirut, a very important meeting was held, which brought together representatives of various Sunni Arab factions, tribal elite, Baathists, igilovtsy and part of Iraqi Shiites. It was at this meeting that a decision was made, as a result of which, the ISIS detachments, instead of continuing the offensive against Baghdad, began to move towards Kurdistan.
- Even before the “Islamic State” began to attack Kurdistan, the Peshmerga armed groups, thanks to their stubborn struggle in 60 – 90 –– in the eyes of public opinion and even regional and world media, were especially respected and considered invincible. Some analysts, answering the question of why ISIS does not attack the Kurds, even argued that the igilovtsy were not able to compete with the peshmerga fighters. Nevertheless, from the first igilovtsev attack on Sinjar, Saadiya, Jalaula, Zumar and other cities, the Peshmerga forces were immediately defeated and, contrary to all expectations, could not resist the "Islamic State." I would like to ask you, as an experienced Peshmerga fighter and the current commander of these formations on the key front of the confrontation with ISIS, why did the Kurdish army lose?
“We, the Kurds, have not been in a combat area since the overthrow of the government of Saddam Hussein in 2003, and did not want to be there. In general, we dealt with more aspects of development, improvement of poor and affected areas, and commercial affairs. Therefore, militarily, we did not have the necessary number of personnel, equipment and weapons. We did not deal properly with military exercises and maneuvers and could not solve the personnel problem. It was then decided that the Peshmerga should transfer part of the weapon that the Iraqi government received from abroad, mainly from America, but in practice, under various pretexts, this did not happen. In addition, a new generation of fighters appeared in our ranks, which replaced the experienced, but aged veterans, so the inexperienced youth had to dress the peshmerga.
All this led to the fact that our formations have lost the necessary forces in order to resist the "Islamic State." Most of the fronts and lines of defense were staffed not by organized military units, but by semi-militarized militia groups. The igilovtsy offensive forced all Kurds, regardless of their ideological convictions, to sit in trenches and defend their land and honor with a weapon in their hands.
Another feature was the fact that in just one week a wide front line more than 1040 kilometers in length opened. It is quite natural that in such a situation even the largest armies and military powers are not able to close all of their possible weaknesses.
- 15 months have passed since the beginning of the confrontation between the Peshmerga and the Islamic State. What is the current position of the Kurdish army at the front of the fight against LIH?
- In recent months, we have gained experience, but at the same time suffered a lot of human and other losses. Throughout this period, we continued to conduct serious battles along the entire length of common borders. After an unexpected attack by the igilovs, parts of the Peshmerga were seriously rebuilt in a short period of time, and both the power and coordination of our forces in defense grew. During this period, on different fronts, our units not only did not cede a single region to the Islamic State, but also liberated the main occupied territories. On some fronts, in particular on Sinjar and Kirkur, the former defensive tactics of the Peshmerga fighters changed and became offensive. Of course, this was played by the support of arms and advisers, which some world and regional powers provide us, as well as air assistance from coalition planes. In general, I have to admit that, despite all these changes and the experience gained, Kurdish militias are still far from the proper level. At the same time, it is necessary to emphasize that, according to the majority of observers and the military command participating in the war with ISIL, even the American one, our army is one of the most combat-ready military formations.
- What is the difference between the young Peshmerga fighters and the older generation, of which you are a representative?
- In our time, the goal was to liberate Kurdistan from oppression and repression of the Baathist regime. At that time, a partisan war was waged and we, using our own experience of conducting military operations in the highlands, could inflict significant damage on the enemy. But now the situation is different and more like a war between two full-fledged armies. This is not just military raids, but a war for the land. The outcome of this war will determine whose flag will fly over this land. Igilovtsy want to take Kirkuk, because it is very important for them. This city will provide terrorists with a strategic depth and provide access to oil, which will be able to cover part of their expenses.