In an interview with Tasnim, Secretary-General of the Kurdistan Socialist Democratic Party Mohammed Haj Mahmoud lauded Lt. General Soleimani as a professional expert in the regional affairs, saying the region is not going to see anybody similar to the late Iranian commander even in the next 20 years.
Kurdistan Socialist Democratic Party is one of the oldest and most influential political parties in the Iraqi Kurdistan region, founded in 1976.
The political party and its leaders have played an active role in the past recent years, particularly in confrontation with the ISIS when the terrorist group launched an offensive on the Kurdistan Region.
In an interview with Tasnim, conducted in his house near the Iraqi city of Sulaymaniyah, Mohammed Haj Mahmoud has expounded on the assistance that Iran and Lt. General Soleimani provided for Kurds in various issues, particularly in combatting the threat of ISIS.
What follows is the full text of the interview:
Tasnim: At the beginning, we should thank you for having us. The interview is being held around 40 days after the martyrdom of Lt. General Qassem Soleimani. We want to take a look at the late commander’s performance and his cooperation with and help for the Kurdish forces in the Kurdistan Region in the fight against the threat of Daesh (ISIS). Let us begin the conversation with an introduction and a summary of your political background.
Haj Mahmoud: You’re really welcome here. I am also glad to see you here. My name is Mohammed Haj Mahmoud. We began an armed struggle in 1976 against the then regime of Iraq -Saddam’s regime- and our struggle went on in the region until 1979 and the victory of the Islamic Revolution and even during the years of the Iraqi imposed war on the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The Socialist Democratic Party of Kurdistan, which is also active at present, is a party that has taken part in all of the events and all of the political processes in Kurdistan and Iraq and in all of the elections.
We now have offices and representatives in Kurdistan and in the other countries such as Iran, Syria, Germany and other countries, and we are also involved in the incumbent cabinet of the Kurdistan Regional Government and the Parliament of the Kurdistan Region.
Tasnim: When did you get to know General Soleimani and in what fields did you work together?
Haj Mahmoud: After Mr. Ahmad Vahidi left his post (in the IRGC Quds Force) and after Hajj Qassem Soleimani was appointed as the commander of the Quds Force, we were acquainted with him, and the continuous relations between the Iraqi Kurdistan currents and the Islamic Republic of Iran were shaped via the Quds Force.
Before his (General Soleimani’s) presence in the Quds Force, I had met him during a military exercise attended by (a number of members of) the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution (in Iraq) and Sayyid Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim and a number of other people. Also later, our relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran were resumed via Hajj Qassem. These relations also continued throughout the past years, as meetings and sessions have been held in Iran, Iraq and Kurdistan.
Tasnim: You must have had talks and contacts with General Soleimani in many meetings about various subjects. What is the most notable feature and quality of the late commander –such as the personal qualities of a man, like the behavior, morals, sincerity or piety- that has stayed in your mind?
Haj Mahmoud: Hajj Qassem had unique qualities and distinguishing characteristics. He was a serene and graceful character who behaved respectfully towards the other people all the time. He always listened carefully to the remarks of the other side to know what was being said. He always tried to satisfy the other side somehow, and did not behave in such a way that a meeting would reach an impasse and not yield results.
The meetings attended by Hajj Qassem always achieved certain results. The main topics that we discussed were mainly pertaining to the Ba’athist regime, Iraq, cooperation, coordination and development of Kurdistan, Iraq, and the relations between the party and the Islamic Republic of Iran, or the security conditions in the region. Our meetings were sometimes held bilaterally, and sometimes in a broader manner with the participation of parties, at which many issues were being discussed.
Apart from his relations with the parties, Hajj Qassem also maintained special personal relations with all of the currents, and such ties were highly significant. He was in contact with all of the currents for nearly 25 years. Such period gave Hajj Qassem a great opportunity to establish contacts with the groups.
In summary, he was a professional character with a good knowledge of the social, military and combat issues. He had also fought in the war between Iran and Iraq as a commander. This fact equipped him with good and strong relations in a very real sense in the military, political, administrative and diplomatic fields.
Tasnim: How familiar was General Soleimani with the Iraqi Kurdistan Region? Above all else, he was from another country with a different culture, while the Iraqi Kurdistan has its own particular features.
Haj Mahmoud: Due to his personal relations, he had a thorough knowledge of all Kurdish strata like an expert in various fields of the Kurdistan Region and familiarity with the Kurdish people. He used to analyze different issues. He got the other side’s meaning and was acquainted with everybody. In critical issues, he had a good knowledge of all details, in such a way that, as if he was living in the Kurdistan Region himself.
Tasnim: Was there ever any meeting that meets a challenge amid the discussions about the issues? Or had he ever become angry? How were the impasse or possible problems in the meetings resolved?
Haj Mahmoud: I had attended several meetings with General Soleimani. Those meetings were held in various places, in his office in Tehran, in the Kurdistan Region, and in the other locations. He was a serene and graceful man. As I told before, he carefully listened to the words of the other side and agreed to the comments.
I believe there has not been a single meeting attended by him (General Soleimani) that may have not yielded results. We had a meeting in Tehran during which a series of subjects were mooted. Although he did not agree with a number of the issues, he did not say anything. We also had bilateral meetings at resting places, in offices and even here (in Iraqi Kurdistan).
Hajj Qassem was a capable and fearless person who always craved martyrdom. He performed great services for fulfilling the goals of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
I believe that he served the Islamic Republic of Iran during his life, and offered even very greater services to Iran with martyrdom. His martyrdom has unified Shiites. The Shiites have become united.
Tasnim: General Soleimani always insisted that Iran has been helping various regions regardless of their nationality or faith. Such assistance may have been provided for the Kurds, Shiites or Sunnis. As regards the Iraqi Kurdistan, there exist cultural and religious differences anyway. How did such issues affect the consultations, contacts and cooperation?
Haj Mahmoud: He always tried to achieve success in his work. He did not have any problem with such issues, held meetings with everyone, came to agreements, and supported all sides, be it Shiites or Sunnis, as well as all parties and groups, and worked in cooperation with all of them. I never saw him have any specific trouble with this.
Tasnim: Let’s talk about the war on Daesh (ISIS) which has been very active in recent years, particularly in Iraq. It has been said that when Daesh attacked the Iraqi Kurdistan, the Islamic Republic of Iran and General Soleimani were the first to help. What is your opinion? How far had Daesh advanced at that time, and how did Iran and General Soleimani assist the Kurds?
Haj Mahmoud: When Daesh reached Mosul for the first time, an Iranian delegation came to Kurdistan Region and held meetings with the whole currents and groups within the KRG. They raised alarm about the threat of Daesh, but a number of currents believed that the mission of Daesh was moving towards Baghdad, and that Daesh would not come to Kurdistan. The (Kurdish) groups did not pay much attention to the explanations provided by that (Iranian) delegation, but as soon as Daesh launched an attack and reached Makhmur, Gawir, Kirkuk and other regions, the first country that arrived at the airport of Erbil was the Islamic Republic of Iran, even before the US and Europe. Hajj Qassem showed up with 70 forces, including military experts, and three consignments of ammunition needed for the fight against Daesh, and he began to cooperate with the Peshmerga forces in person. A number of them (General Soleimani’s forces) were even martyred in the Makhmur region.
Tasnim: What would have happened if such supports had not been provided from the very beginning of the Daesh offensive? What conditions could the Iraqi Kurdistan face if Daesh was not fought against at the first moment?
Haj Mahmoud: The Kurdish forces were short of arms and ammunition. Daesh had disarmed 90,000 Iraqi troops, including 60,000 Army forces and 30,000 forces of the Iraqi Federal Police. Those 90,000 forces had been equipped with the latest advanced American weapons, from tanks and missiles to the artillery and other ordnance. As a result, the newest versions of advanced military equipment had come into the Daesh’ possession.
Daesh started the war on Kurdistan with such equipment. The arrival of the Iranian forces under the command of Hajj Qassem and their cooperation with the Peshmerga forces resulted in the defeat of the Daesh terrorists in a short time. The number of those Iranian forces was not too high, but that small group –which included around 70 military experts as I mentioned- were professionals in utilizing military equipment, and provided very good and effective assistance for the Peshmerga forces of Kurdistan, until the Peshmerga forces could be reorganized. Meanwhile, the cooperation from Hajj Qassem in the war against Daesh continued, such as by supplying ammunition and weapons. They played a major and influential role, not only along 1,500 kilometers of the borders of Kurdistan Region from Naft Khana, Khosravi and Khanaqin to the Syrian border, but also inside Iraq. He (General Soleimani) was personally present in the battlefront like a Peshmerga and soldier, and participated in the war against Daesh. Hajj Qassem was present in all battlefields longer than everyone else.
Tasnim: Your son, Ata, was martyred in the fight against Daesh. Please tell us about your son. He was apparently martyred in Kirkuk region, is it right? How effective was the cooperation and coordination between the Peshmerga forces and Hashd al-Sha’abi (Popular Mobilization Forces) in the fight against Daesh?
Haj Mahmoud: I had been in Kirkuk before Daesh reached that region. I had the feeling that Daesh has come to fight against everybody and did not make any difference between the people, either Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds, Turks or others. Daesh did not make any difference between them.
As the Socialist Party, we deployed our forces to the region, and went to Kirkuk region with the Peshmerga forces. Daesh had just arrived at the region. We defended Kirkuk. In the next stage, we made advances and Daesh was forced to retreat.
In the third stage, we launched a series of attacks on Daesh. In 2014, when we were in that region, the war continued for around four or five months. A large number of Daesh forces launched an offensive. There were locations in those regions called Maktab Khalid and Tel al-Ward. Tel al-Ward was a critical region with hills and heights which came under the control of Daesh. Daesh had also gained control of Kirkuk, and the main gas resources of Kirkuk were also there. There were fears that Daesh may explode that site anytime. If that reservoir of gas had exploded, Kirkuk would have been razed to the ground. When that region was occupied by Daesh, I was here (in Sulaymaniyah). I was informed that Tel al-Ward had been conquered by Daesh. I went there, but Ata was not with me. He was in the university at that time, but came to the region as soon as he knew that I had gone there. There were clashes in Mullah Abdullah region for a couple of hours and the Peshmerga forces had retreated after the advances of Daesh. When I got there, I held a meeting with the commanders as the commander of the Kirkuk front in order to figure out how we could liberate the regions from the grip of Daesh. Many commanders believed that without the US artillery and warplanes, it would be impossible to recapture those regions. We waited. It was autumn. It was around two hours before dawn, but we did not see any sign of Americans. There was no artillery either. Nevertheless, we started the attack and could liberate the region within around an hour and a half. It was the first time that the Kurdistan forces had managed to recapture regions from Daesh without any foreign support or fighter jets. We had taken control of all regions, but at the last moments, my son, Ata, was martyred beside me.
Tasnim: Many believe that the US proved to be a terrorist state by assassinating General Soleimani, an official figure who was the formal guest of another country. Following the assassination, the US president has also announced repeatedly that ‘we killed the number one terrorist in the world’. What is the purpose behind such comments? Who do you think was General Soleimani? Was he a terrorist or someone who saved the lives and assets of people from the grip of terrorists?
Haj Mahmoud: The truth is that the countries like the US label anybody who is not a friend of them as terrorist. For instance, they (Americans) were against the United Arab Emirates for some time, but when they reached an agreement and the US received a sum of money from the United Arab Emirates, Trump described the UAE as a brother. But he (Trump) has branded as terrorist whatever country with which he has trouble. The basis of American manner is that they are well disposed towards you as long as you are well disposed towards them, but if you turn against them, you’ll be bad.
The Islamic Republic of Iran, Hajj Qassem, and his colleagues have exerted very significant influence on the war against Daesh, and played a leading role in defeating Daesh. I believe that without the Islamic Republic of Iran and Hajj Qassem, Baghdad and Damascus would be now under occupation of Daesh. Those two capitals would have been under the control of Daesh for sure. But thanks to the Islamic Republic of Iran, Russia came to the region, Hezbollah came to Syria, and they defended that country. They defended Iraq as well. In Iraq, Daesh was closing in around Abu Ghraib, Karbala and other regions. Hajj Qassem played a key role in the confrontation with Daesh. He was a revolutionary person, and managed to turn Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and Afghanistan into a united front under his command. Those countries were in contact with the Islamic Republic of Iran via Hajj Qassem. Hajj Qassem transferred the Hezbollah forces from Lebanon to Baghdad and Syria. He established a united axis in Syria, Yemen and the other regions, and was commanding it in person.
Tasnim: Apart from the meetings that you held with General Soleimani, do you have any other memories of the Iranian commander in the battlefield? Considering that you personally participated in the battlefield.
Haj Mahmoud: I was in Kirkuk when I was informed that the Peshmerga forces have launched an attack, but it has faced resistance from Daesh and the forces have also suffered casualties, in a way that 30 corpses had remained in the region. We went to the clash zone swiftly, and saw Hajj Qassem and a number of his forces in there. He asked me why I had gone there. I responded, “The Peshmerga forces have suffered casualties, that’s why I have come here.” He said, “I had cautioned the brothers in the Patriotic Union (of Kurdistan) not to attack without informing me.” We held a meeting in there, attended by Hajj Qassem, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, and others. A series of decisions were made in that session which led to the liberation of all regions within a week.
Tasnim: How did you hear the news of his martyrdom, and how did you feel?
Haj Mahmoud: It was not surprising for me to hear the news of his martyrdom. He was present in Damascus, Yemen, Lebanon, Baghdad, Erbil, Sulaymaniyah and other regions on a daily basis. He did not hide himself from the threats, so the probability of his martyrdom was high considering the extent of the threats. However, the news of his martyrdom really saddened me, particularly given that he was martyred as a guest in Iraq. This fact made the news more saddening.
Tasnim: The front of resistance lost one of its most important symbols, commanders and figures after the martyrdom of General Soleimani. His loss was a blow to the front of resistance. How do you see the future of this front after the martyrdom of General Soleimani? How do you think will the process initiated by General Soleimani continue, particularly in the fight against the terrorist groups and the US acts of occupation in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and elsewhere?
Haj Mahmoud: Hajj Qassem had definitely a unique character. He had very good relations with the political currents and various countries, and above all, he was honest with his friends.
I remember that we and a number of other parties were holding talks with Hajj Qassem at a meeting, and we requested support from him in the elections. Hajj Qassem only said, “I pray for the best for you and wish you luck.” We were also accompanied by two of our clerics. I told him (General Soleimani) in jest, “Haji, if there is a need for a prayer, these clerics of ourselves would pray for us.”
General Soleimani had personally close ties with many people. Such factors had helped him turn the region into a united front, under his own command. He stayed in contact with the countries for nearly 25 years, and this turned Hajj Qassem into an expert in the regional affairs.
I believe the region is not going to see anybody similar to Hajj Qassem even in the next 20 years. The Islamic Republic has a population of 70 to 80 million and has well-known individuals in the political and military fields and other spheres. But Hajj Qassem was a distinctive character in the Islamic Republic and across the region. I believe that it is difficult to find somebody with all of those qualities until the next 20 years.
Tasnim: A revenge for the martyrdom of General Soleimani would be the expulsion of American occupiers from the region, particularly from Iraq. What do you think about the outcome of this issue, which is now being seriously pursued in Iraq? Will the region get rid of the US occupation or not?
Haj Mahmoud: Although the Iraqi parliament and government have adopted a series of decisions, the eviction of Americans is not an easy job. The Americans would not abandon the region easily, and cast a greedy eye on the region. The US claims that it has spent billions of dollars in Iraq, and seeks to reclaim it. They have withdrawn from Syria, but stationed a series of forces, tanks and military equipment on the oilfields.
Upon return from a visit to Saudi Arabia, Trump did not declare that he has reached an agreement with that country, but said ‘I have brought a sum of more than $400 billion from Saudi Arabia to the US’. This is the truth about the US, while Trump is sincerely expressing the realities and the truth about his country, which has a greedy eye on oil and other resources of the other countries to fulfill its own interests.
Tasnim: If you want to tell General Soleimani a few words, as a friend and as a person with whom you had close ties, what would you say?
Haj Mahmoud: Honorable Hajj Qassem! As a devoted person, as a hero character, as an altruist figure, and as a person that devoted your life to your country, your goals and your friends, you were martyred hundreds of kilometers away from your homeland. Your name will be indelibly imprinted on the minds of conscientious people. Your martyrdom in here (Iraq) sends the message that you have been serving the goals and your country, and I believe that you will be in heaven.
Tasnim: At the end, let us know about anything that may have been missed.
Haj Mahmoud: I believe that a person with such qualities (like General Soleimani) would be rarely found in a society or country throughout the years, and General Soleimani was one of those characters. Such a character could hardly ever be found, one that would devote his life to safeguarding his soil, motherland, country, oppressed people and friends.
Hajj Qassem is a name that will go down in the history of Iran and the region forever. He made history for himself, for the Islamic Republic of Iran, and for the people of region that were his friends and colleagues. Qassem Soleimani is a name that will never die.
The distinction between martyrdom and normal death is that a martyr devotes his life to the goals of himself, his country and his nation. The greatest asset of every human being is his or her life, and these people (martyrs) will stand in the front row on the day of judgement according to the teachings of Islam.