Is Barzani really a nationalist? Redux

Michael Rubin

By Michael Rubin:

My October 22, 2012 column “Is Masud Barzani Really a Nationalist?” sparked debate among Kurdish writers in a number of publications. Most prominently, Delovan Barwari, president of the American Kurdish Council, responded with an essay which substituted personal disparagement for factual defense of Masud Barzani’s decades-long record as leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Kurdistan Regional Government. Any leader—and especially one confident about their record—should welcome debate about their legacy, and so I will oblige:

Barwari writes, for example, “Throughout his life, he [Barzani] has fought for greater Kurdish rights for all parts of Kurdistan.” This is exaggeration. Barzani did fight for Kurdish rights throughout much of his career in Iraq, but his broader track record suggests that he prioritized personal power above Kurdish nationalism. After all, why else would Barzani risk everything the Kurdish nation had achieved in Iraq when, in August 1996, he invited Saddam Hussein’s forces into Erbil?  It is difficult to accept that Barzani acted to protect Kurdish rights when he made this alliance with a man who, just eight years previously, had used chemical weapons against Kurdish civilians. While Barzani certainly wanted to counter rival Jalal Talabani, who had admittedly cut a devils’ bargain with Iran, to date, Barzani has never fully explained his actions, not only in 1996, but also afterward.

Likewise, it is difficult to see Barzani as a defender of Kurdish rights in Turkey when, at the height of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) struggle against the Turkish Army in the 1990s, Barzani accepted both a Turkish passport and, according to Turkish officials who served during the administration of the late president Turgut Özal, a $35/month Turkish subsidy for every peshmerga under his command.

Barwari also writes that, “Amongst the abundant pool of evidence confirming that Barzani is a true nationalist leader… [is] his resilience and determination to stop the Turkish threat of occupation in 2003, as he promised to turn Kurdistan into a graveyard of Turkish soldiers.” Alas, Barwari may be misinformed about the compromises which Barzani offered prior to the Bush administration’s decision to oust Saddam, discussions to which I was privy if not involved, due to my capacity at the time in the Pentagon. In the months leading up to the war, Masud and Nechirvan Barzani agreed to allow Turkish troops to enter Iraq through Kurdistan. True, both Masud and Nechirvan opposed any Turkish presence in Kirkuk and the Turkish desire to open a second border under the Turkish army’s exclusive control. But, in return for promises of substantial financial assistance, Barzani acquiesced to cooperate with the Turkish army. Such assistance went not to the Kurdistan Regional Government budget, but to Masud himself. This episode highlights again the divergence between Barzani’s rhetoric and his actions, a pattern about which politicians and diplomats not only in Washington, but also in Tehran and Ankara are familiar.

Barwari credits Barzani directly for the establishment of the “American Kurdish Congressional Caucus (AKCC), an organization that involves over 50 members of US House of Representatives that was established under the leadership of Barzani to strengthen the relations between the Kurds and the Americans, primarily for influencing the US policy.” Alas, here Kurdish partisanship may also color Barwari’s understanding. Masud Barzani had very little to do with the founding of the Kurdish Caucus in the U.S. Congress; that was Qubad Talabani’s work; at least, Qubad claims credit for it. Regardless, neither is it—nor any other congressional caucus—under the leadership of a foreign leader. Nevertheless, if Barwari does believe the Kurdish Caucus to be under Barzani’s control, he might elaborate on why, when the Pentagon served notice of its plan to ship advanced weaponry to Turkey, Barzani refused to ask the caucus to intercede during the 15-day period to do so. That silence—two months before the Roboski massace—is a silence that historians are going to ponder when they consider Barzani’s legacy.

Perhaps Masud has an explanation for his past cooperation with Saddam, Turkish Generals Doğan Güreş and İsmail Hakkı Karadayı, and his silence on issues important to Kurds and Kurdistan at both the White House and in the U.S. Congress. Such episodes should be fully and openly debated if Kurdistan is as much of a democracy as Barzani claims, and if its universities enjoy the academic freedom which its students deserve. Alas, such a topic is still too sensitive even for even the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani, the most progressive university in the region but one in which politics continue to overshadow the campus to a greater extent than its corollaries in Cairo and Beirut.

Nevertheless, Masrour Barzani, Falah Mustafa, and Fuad Hussein are frequent visitors to Washington; a holding company apparently acting on behalf of Masrour still retains his palatial villa in McLean, Virginia. Accordingly, a challenge: With a month’s notice, let any of these figures openly and publicly debate Barzani’s nationalism and his legacy. Let such a debate be open to Kurdish journalists and television stations. If they are confident of Masud’s legacy, they should not fear further discussion of it.

Copyright © 2012

10 Responses to Is Barzani really a nationalist? Redux
  1. Suleiman
    November 8, 2012 | 12:58

    The Kurds are tired of people like Barwari and Rubin. Each one has an agenda of his own, and in the process use the Kurdish issues to move their agendas forward.
    Barwari wants to hold on to his ties and relations with the current Kurdish gorros while Rubin is fixed on using every means to bring Rurkey into the equation.
    Barwari needs to get his head out of his behind and realize Kurdish youth are not blind and no idiots and can see reality for themselves. And Michael Rubin needs to understand that the regular unbiased Kurd doesn’t give a nickel about his hate for Turkey due to his Israeli roots.
    Fact of the matter is: Kurdistan can’t afford any more brainwashing of its people. This cat and mouse game both Rubin and his prior buddies of KDP ate playing is pathetic. People can’t take Barwari seriously because he is flat out biased and they can’t trust Rubin because he used to be a KRG puppet. So take your fight elsewhere.
    We are tired of this junk being published on KT. KT is above this.

  2. Soran
    November 9, 2012 | 11:06

    Samuel Johnson says “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel”.

  3. Amir Bawan
    November 10, 2012 | 01:41

    Mr Michael

    I tried to find a simple word that could describe a man of non virtue vad so ever that spent his miserable live abroad and try to glorify a person or a family that has a lot of innocent blods on thier hands. Collaborates with enemy of the poor Kurdish people through thier intire undedemocratic period of ascendancy towards this peaceful folk.

    We are convicted by ourself according to to law of ignorence that unvillingly accepting the rise of a new dictators/ warlords dyarchys that its main policy are nepotism and so on. we put in jail dissidents we use torture against journalists and try to imitating a democratic society. Who share the burden of this People. US and Europe are main problem making in this area. this kind of people we the see the § sign they become a master of ……

    Are they deaf and blind that dont see what happing around them.

    BACK to the issue, Delvan Barvari you and Ghaneefar the man how wrote about talabni you are out of the circle of Virtue.

  4. K.I.M.
    November 10, 2012 | 09:37

    Back in 90’s, when the PKK-Turkey’s conflict was at its peak, Barzani used to trade every PKK fighter for a Klashinkov . Turkish Generals convene with Barzani’s KDP at his occupied “ Sare Rash” residence on a regular basis. Nichirvan had an interview with BCC last night that was re-aired on Kurdistan TV last night, openly admitting it. Kurdish political parties’ over-reliance on regional powers is an alarming reality. One can clearly perceive how Hawler and Duhok are dominated by Turkish businessmen. Don’t forget that Turkish military bases are still active and aerials strikes targeting innocent civilians persist up to this day.
    A patriot nationalist leader is the one how can unify all parts and parties.

  5. karim
    November 10, 2012 | 15:14

    i can call you Mr. antikurd.
    president Barzani from early his youth advocate his life for kurdish issue and finally he will can gain his goal

  6. K.I.M.
    November 10, 2012 | 17:47

    In support of Michael Rubin’s observations.

    2 out of the 76 secret corruption files posted on YouTube by K.I.M.

    The rest will soon be revealed to media, as well:

  7. Kurd
    November 12, 2012 | 11:19

    what is this? Is this is some kind of a joke? Guys, you are making the opposition look stupid and ignorant and in the process weakening the opposition’s arguments for corruption. There is definitely a lot of corruption going on, but if you are going to expose it, it is not going to happen with these types of amature videos. A bunch videos of some companies, walls, and streets. what the heck is this? show proof who owns it. Show the world what you them to know. KIM is a joke and unfortunately you guys are claiming to be opposition because it makes opposition look silly.

  8. K.I.M.
    November 12, 2012 | 17:14


    What has been posted may seem as sets of simple buildings, walls and companies. These are merely clues. Try to see what is behind the scene. They now legally are embezzling public funds. A 200 meter piece of land cost 200 G US dollars. Imagine when a Shaikh registers 100 pieces of lands and sells it back to the poor people for 10 million in a split second. We have not yet published the important files that once exposed; you will see how people will swarm the street. Imagine a house with 100 million US dollars stacked up in it! Or a secret meeting between some high-ranking KRG officials with Turkish military officers discussing how to launch an attack on PKK? Another important file is a secret meeting held between Barzani and Saddam in 1996!

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