Without the PKK, Hewlêr could have fallen to ISIS

Former Peshmerga commander Riyad Selahaddin said that without the support and motivation of the guerrillas, ISIS could have invaded Hewlêr and Zakho in 2014.

Riyad Selahaddin comes from Qamişlo in Rojava and migrated with his family to Southern Kurdistan (Northern Iraq) in 1980. Between 1991 and 2003, he was a commander of the KDP peshmerga, between 2003 and 2011 he commanded Kurdish forces in the Iraqi army, and from 2011 to 2018 he was a commander of the KDP's special unit, the "Roj peshmerga" and the Zêrevanî. In May 2018, he separated from these forces, went to Rojava and started working as a military specialist for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

"In 1991, the PKK liberated the whole of Zakho"

Riyad Selahaddin, who himself witnessed and participated in the uprisings against the Baath regime under Saddam Hussein in Southern Kurdistan in March 1991, said that it was the PKK guerrilla fighters who liberated Zakho from the Baath regime at that time.

Speaking to ANF, Selahaddin stated, "In March 1991, the people in Sulaymaniyah, Diyana and Ranya rose up. The uprising spread to Hewlêr (Erbil), Kirkuk and Duhok. The people took up arms and revolted. I was not involved anywhere at that time, I participated in these uprisings as a citizen. There was an area that our soldiers called 'field zero'. Some peshmerga came and there were also guerrilla fighters alongside them. If the guerrillas had not joined this uprising and fought, the Baathist army would not have been defeated. The guerrillas played a very important role in that war. The people received the guerrilla participation very positively. Especially in Zakho, PKK guerrillas played a very important role. The PKK liberated the whole of Zakho."

"The majority of those who fought were members of the guerrillas"

The guerrillas also played an important role in the liberation of Duhok, said Selahaddin and continued: "The PKK also took part in the war in Duhok. I was there. They came to Çiyayê Spî. At that time, one of the front houses in Duhok was ours. They came and asked for us because we were from Rojava. Then four guerrillas stayed in our house for seven to eight days. They fought until they drove the fascists out of the region. I myself was also ready. More than 200 PKK guerrillas came to the town at the beginning of the uprising. The guerrillas reached the areas where the uprising was taking place before the peshmerga, and the number of PKK guerrillas fighting against the Ba'ath regime and supporting the uprising was greater than that of the KDP peshmerga."

"The guerrillas did not leave their positions"

Due to the Iraqi regime's threats of chemical weapons and a massive attack, many people fled to Turkey, Iran and Rojava after the uprisings were successful. Selahaddin remarked that the PKK, however, stayed and continued the fight against Saddam Hussein's army: "The Iraqi army was very brutal against women and children in Kuwait. This frightened us all. Saddam had used chemical weapons against Halabja in 1988. The news spread that Saddam would use chemical weapons again this time. Nearly a million people from this region began to flee to Iran and Turkey. The guerrillas said to us, 'Okay, go, save your families. We will stay and continue the war.' They really stayed and continued the fight."

"They shared their supplies with the people"

Selahaddin also set out. After seven to eight days of walking, the fugitives reached the regions of Çukurca and Deştan in northern Kurdistan. Regarding his experience with the guerrillas, he stated, "We were on the run. When we were moving through the Duhok valley, I saw an Iraqi helicopter airdropping troops. We knew that the guerrillas were on that mountain. Guerrillas came to us in the regions of Şêladizê and Balinda. They gave us everything they had with them. Some places were very steep rocky, in some places there were streams. The guerrillas helped the people there a lot. They guided us and our children through there.

We moved to the Çelê and Deştan areas. There we were put into camps [by the Turkish government]. Thousands of people from Northern Kurdistan came to us in vehicles and brought us blankets and food. Sometimes, the starving people threw themselves in front of the vehicles and even damaged them. The people of Northern Kurdistan (kr: Bakur) did not hesitate to help us. Hundreds, thousands of vehicles arrived at the camp every day. They brought the food they had bought with their own money and provided us with what we needed. I was there too, I witnessed what happened. People in Bakur helped us, came up to us, kissed us and said, 'You are our people, we will protect you, we will support you'.

"KDP entered Hewlêr with Saddam's tanks"

After the establishment of the UN security zone and after Iraq came under pressure from the US operation "Poised Hammer", people returned to Southern Kurdistan. Selahaddin, himself among the returnees, joined the peshmerga at that time and was trained at the military school in Sulaymaniyah/Karaçolan. He then began working in the Duhok command of the KDP peshmerga. He also witnessed when the KDP entered Hewlêr (Erbil), which was under the control of the PUK (Patriotic Union of Kurdistan), with Saddam Hussein's tanks: "I was stationed at Kepike Hamed Axa as a unit commander at the time. The general commander was Ali Têlî Nerwehî. At that time, Hewlêr and Sulaymaniyah were under the control of the PUK. At night the news came saying, 'Tomorrow something good will happen, there will be a celebration.' We didn't know what was going to happen. We woke up in the morning. It was said, 'Whoever wants to go to Hewlêr can go.' When I entered the city, I saw that Saddam Hussein's tanks, artillery and helicopters were in Hewlêr. There were KDP flags on the tanks. At that time, the PUK did not put up much resistance. In two days, we advanced to the Iranian border as far as Sulaymaniyah. Not much time passed. This time, the PUK attacked together with the Iranian Pasdaran. They entered Sulaymaniyah. They also captured Ranya, Diyana and the whole surrounding area. Then there were talks. The regional states interfered. They divided Southern Kurdistan between the two powers. One part went to the KDP and one part to the PUK."

"The KDP leadership ordered the withdrawal from Şengal"

The military expert pointed out that the KDP is continuing this policy today: "For example, the KDP, Turkey and Iraq have reached an agreement on Şengal (Sinjar). They brought the Iraqi army to Şengal to attack the Kurds again. They could possibly send other forces to the region. It has come to the point where the KDP is willing to do anything for their particular interests. When ISIS attacked Şengal on 3 August 2014, I was serving in the Zêrevanî command in Hewlêr. The KDP gave the order to the peshmerga in Şengal: 'Burn your archives quickly and leave'. As a result of the agreement between Turkey, the KDP and ISIS, the decision was made to hand over Şengal to ISIS. This is because Şengal is an area of strategic importance vis-à-vis Saudi Arabia, Rojava, Syria and Israel. I remember when Saddam Hussein bombed Israel, he fired rockets from there."

"If the guerrillas had not come, Hewlêr would have fallen"

The attack on Şengal was followed by the attack on Maxmur. Then ISIS began to advance on Hewlêr and Duhok. People began to flee. "We didn't have time to discuss what had happened in Şengal. The people who fled Şengal came to Southern Kurdistan. Later, ISIS attacked Maxmur. It advanced on Hewlêr and Duhok. The rich got on planes and fled to Turkey. The population also began to flee. At that time, the Şengal question was not a very important issue for us. Because Hewlêr and Duhok were also under acute threat. Hewlêr was on the verge of falling. The population was panicking and everyone was thinking about how to escape. So we were not in a position to discuss anything. It was blow by blow. The KDP officials knew about the deal with ISIS, which was to go to Şengal and Maxmur, but then not advance any further. The coalition would intervene. We had no information about this. We thought, 'Our families are gone.' In Şengal, the guerrillas resisted. Then more guerrillas came and went to Şengal. When ISIS was in Maxmur, I was in Hewlêr. People tried to flee in panic. Then the guerrillas came and the news that they were going to Maxmur. We didn't believe it. Then we gathered together. People had pictures of Öcalan with them. The friends came in cars and buses from the mountains and went towards Maxmur. That gave the people a lot of morale. Those who had already fled started to return. If the guerrillas had not intervened, Hewlêr and Duhok could have fallen too."

"They are afraid of the will of the self-government in Şengal"

Concerning the situation of the Yazidis and the current developments in Şengal, Selahaddin said: "I believe that the Yazidis in Şengal and Southern Kurdistan realised their own reality for the first time through the PKK guerrillas. They claimed their land and became patriots. An experience of self-government also developed in Şengal. Both the KDP and the enemy see that there is a special development in Şengal and that is why they are afraid. They do not want the Apoist idea of the Democratic Nation to spread. Therefore, they see the self-confidence, self-defence and self-government of the people of Şengal as a threat to their own interests.

Today, it is not the PKK but the people of Şengal who defend and govern themselves. The KDP should have respected this will. There should have been dialogue among the Kurds. It should not have interfered in the self-government of Şengal. KDP, the people of Şengal do not want you. Let the people govern themselves. There, mothers who have taken up arms are declared 'terrorists'. The Iraqi army is being deployed to Şengal. The KDP is trying to make Şengal a target for Iraq. This is a disgrace."