Exclusive - Kurdish Opposition Party Says Politics, Arms Needed in Dealing with Tehran

Exclusive - Kurdish Opposition Party Says Politics, Arms Needed in Dealing with Tehran

Exclusive - Kurdish Opposition Party Says Politics, Arms Needed in Dealing with Tehran

Exclusive - Kurdish Opposition Party Says Politics, Arms Needed in Dealing with Tehran

Since the formation of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region government in 1992, two anti-Iran parties, the Komala Party of Iranian Kurdistan and the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan (KDPI), decided to suspend their armed activities against Iranian forces. They took the decision to respect the political situation in the Kurdish region and avoid giving Tehran the excuses to expand into the area.

In return, ruling parties in Kurdistan continued to provide financial support to the two anti-Iran opposition Kurdish parties.

Komala has posts based in mountainous terrain north of Sulaymaniyah, and the KDPI is based in the city of Koy Sanjaq, Erbil Governorate.

Over time, divisions led the KDPI to split into the Democratic Party of Iranian Kurdistan, led by Mustafa Hijri, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (PDK), led by Mostafa Mouloudi. Komala, meanwhile, split into three branches.

These parties stayed away from arms for 15 years, up until two years ago when the KPDI resumed its armed operations deep inside Iran. It has over the years dealt heavy blows to positions of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards that are deployed heavily in the Kurdish regions in Iran. The Iranian regime retaliates by assassinating KDPI leaders and fighters inside the Kurdistan region.

Komala, until this very day, maintains a military silence, despite having a significant number of trained and armed fighters with medium and light weapons at their disposal.

Association for Human Rights in Kurdistan of Iran (KMMK) official and Komala offshoot leader Omar Alikhanzadeh said that his party resumed armed activity against Iran from 2009 until late 2013, but found it “futile and useless when compared to political and civil action.”

“We are now adopting a large-scale political project aimed at mobilizing masses politically and offering wider prospects for anti-Iranian political action,” Alikhanzadeh told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Working to form an entity which has both military and political wings operating inside Iranian territory, Alikhanzadeh said that the Komala plans further training and rehabilitation of military forces in border areas.

Despite using charged rhetoric, Alikhanzadeh said that the time for direct confrontation with the Iranian regime has not yet come.

He elaborated further by saying that Komala-linked fighters lack an elemental strategic depth, proper logistics, and financial support.

Over more, he said that Kurdish opposition members have also suffered pressure practiced by the Iraqi Kurdistan government, which has cut off all funding to opposition parties.

Speaking on toppling the Iranian regime, the official said it has to be a public choice taken and carried out by Iranians with no external drivers.

“The collapse of the Iranian is inevitable. The Iranian public disagrees with the regime structure, especially over its blatant involvement in spurring regional chaos, instead of focusing on internal affairs, such as the deteriorating living standards.”

Summing up recent riots in Iran, Alikhanzadeh said that the regime’s shortcoming has instigated an unprecedented wave of rejection and discontent against the rulers of Tehran.

As for the prospects of rapprochement between conflicting Komala offshoots Alikhanzadeh said that there is hope.

“We recently formed a center for joint cooperation between all the opposing Kurdish forces and parties. We outlined joint efforts, especially on working together to topple the current Tehran regime and replace it with a democratic alternative instead.”

Fakhri Karim: I Conveyed Talabani’s Advice to Assad on Terrorists

Fakhri Karim (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Fakhri Karim (Asharq Al-Awsat)

Fakhri Karim: I Conveyed Talabani’s Advice to Assad on Terrorists

Fakhri Karim (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Fakhri Karim (Asharq Al-Awsat)

The late Iraqi President, Jalal Talabani, excelled at delivering messages subtly. In private meetings, he spoke more freely than in public statements or interviews. His chief advisor, Fakhri Karim, often joined these discussions.

Luncheons were lavish, showing Talabani's respect for different opinions, though he rarely followed doctors’ advice.

Talabani believed that Iranian leaders were smart and hoped they wouldn’t try to control Baghdad from Tehran, citing the failed attempt to manage Beirut from Damascus.

He noted that Iraq’s independent spirit makes it hard for the country to follow the US, Iran, or Türkiye. Talabani also admitted giving refuge to 80 Iraqi officers who had fought against Iran, after they were targeted by certain groups.

Talabani praised Syria’s late President Hafez al-Assad for his invaluable support, providing accommodation and passports.

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, Karim revealed he had warned President Bashar al-Assad, on behalf of Talabani, that militants allowed into Iraq to fight US forces might later turn against Syria.

This, Karim noted, did happen.

After the Israeli invasion of Beirut in 1982, Karim relocated to Damascus. There, he expanded his Al-Mada organization, focusing on publishing, translation, and organizing book fairs, alongside his political activities.

This allowed him to build relationships with top civilian and military officials.

In 2000, after Bashar al-Assad came to power, he met with Karim.

“I felt Assad was eager to listen, especially given my connections with many intellectuals,” recalled Karim.

“I told him dissenting voices exist but are mostly positive. You talk about modernization and renewal; this is a chance for some openness, even in elections,” Karim said he told Assad.

“Do you think anyone could really compete with you, given your position as the Baath Party's leader with all its resources?” Karim questioned.

Karim then discussed the situation of Syrian Kurds with Assad, noting that many lack identification papers, even basic travel documents. He also mentioned seeing historic Kurdish areas in the Khabur region with their names changed to Arabic, which causes sensitivities.

“I am not satisfied with this situation. Rest assured, this issue is on my agenda, and you will hear positive news about it,” Karim cited Assad as saying at the time.

In a later meeting, after the change in Iraq, Karim met Assad several times.

On one occasion, Karim recalls conveying Talabani’s greetings and concerns about armed fighters moving into Iraq and the dangers this posed to both Iraq and possibly Syria.

“We have deployed large forces to secure the borders, but what can we do? There are tribes and smugglers,” Assad complained about the situation.

“I told President Assad that as Fakhri Karim, I couldn’t share with the Americans what I know. I assured him that terrorists enter Iraq from a specific location I’m familiar with, not from all borders,” Karim recounted to Asharq Al-Awsat.

“I also noted that Syria tightly controls its airspace, shooting down any foreign aircraft,” he added.

Assad then responded to Karim and said: “We’re prepared, let us know what we can do.”

In reality, Damascus was worried because there were reports suggesting that Syria’s Baath regime could be the next target for the US army at its borders. Additionally, Damascus was concerned about the sectarian divisions—Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish—in dealing with Iraq and the potential impact on Syria.

Repairing Kurdish Relations

Karim has spent years working on repairing the relationship between Kurdish leaders Talabani and Masoud Barzani.

This history began with the split that gave rise to the ‘Patriotic Union of Kurdistan’ from the ‘Kurdistan Democratic Party.’

Despite bloody conflicts and external meddling, Karim believes Kurdish leaders unify in the face of danger to their people and region, a pattern he expects to continue.

Karim believes that the Kurdish leadership, symbolized by Masoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani, made a big mistake at the beginning by focusing only on regional issues, ignoring Baghdad’s affairs.

He thinks they should have aimed for a federal democratic system that respects citizenship rights.

Karim pointed out that without a unified Iraq, the region’s rights would be uncertain. He also criticized the Shiite-Kurdish alliance, which he sees as odd.

Additionally, he mentioned mistakes in failing to unify regional institutions and increasing corruption, with party interests often trumping competence in appointments.

Asked about the personal bond between Talabani and Barzani, Karim said: “Both have moved past their tough history, but they haven’t done enough for the future.”

“I want to highlight an act by Barzani that shows his character. When Talabani was sick, Barzani made it clear to anyone thinking of harming Talabani or his family that there would be consequences,” he revealed.

“This isn’t hearsay, it’s firsthand,” affirmed Karim.

“Barzani also refused to discuss the presidency or a successor during Talabani’s illness. I personally organized a gathering for Talabani’s family, where Barzani reassured them, ‘I’m here for you, I’m family.’ His words moved everyone, showing a strong emotional connection,” he added.

When asked about Barzani’s character, Karim said: “He's been a long-time friend, and our relationship has been politically aligned and personally warm from the start.”

“I see him as a loyal friend, and he's shown that loyalty on multiple occasions. He’s smart, decisive, and listens carefully, often changing his mind after thorough consideration,” he noted.

“Once Barzani commits to something, he finds it hard to go back on his word. There was a moment during negotiations with Saddam Hussein when he stood firm despite my advice to reconsider,” recalled Karim.

Regarding the aftermath of the independence referendum, Karim believes that the negative turn in the political landscape began during Nouri al-Maliki’s tenure.

Al-Maliki’s attempts to shift alliances and his refusal to compromise exacerbated tensions.

The referendum itself wasn’t the problem; rather, it was exploited by some to punish the Kurdistan Region.

However, Karim emphasized that holding referendums is a citizen’s right, and the purpose of the Kurdistan referendum was to affirm this right, not to declare independence.