We speak with independent journalist Reese Erlich about his report on Iranian Kurdish guerillas based among their Kurdish bretheren in northern Iraq. Erlich writes, "Kurdish and American sources say the United States has been supporting guerilla raids against Iran, channeling the money through organizations in Iraqi Kurdistan." [rush transcript included]
Iran’s capture of the 15 British sailors and marines took place as the UN Security Council voted unanimously in favor of further sanctions against Iran for its refusal to suspend its nuclear enrichment program. The economic sanctions target Iran’s arms exports, state bank, and its elite Revolutionary Guard Corps. The Iranian government denounced the sanctions package as illegal and announced it would limit cooperation with UN nuclear watchdog agency.
- Reese Erlich, an independent radio producer and journalist. He reports on Iran in the latest issue of Mother Jones and is author of the forthcoming book "The Iran Agenda: the Real Story of U.S. Policy and the Middle East Crisis."
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: We are going to turn now to Reese Erlich, an independent radio producer and journalist, who reports on Iran, in the latest issue of Mother Jones, and is the author of the forth-coming book The Iran Agenda: the Real Story of U.S. Policy in the Middle East Crisis. I spoke with him yesterday in San Francisco and asked what effect the Security Council sanctions will have on Iran.
REESE ERLICH: I think the newest U.N. sanctions were clearly sponsored and passed only because of U.S. pressure. They don’t do a lot to actually effectively impact Iran that much. They increase the freezing of some Iranian individuals’ assets, a few other things. They also, it might be noted, reiterate the U.N. call to make all of the Middle East nuclear free and that includes Israel. And I’m sure that’s not something the Bush administration is going to trumpet when it talks about those latest U.N. sanctions. Again, I think in the wider context, the sanctions that passed by the U.N. are part of an escalating effort to pressure Iran to basically toe the line for U.S. interests in the area.
AMY GOODMAN: In the latest edition of Mother Jones, you have a piece where you talk about the Iranian/Kurdish guerrillas. Explain who and where they are.
REESE ERLICH: In Northern Iraq there are three Iranian Kurdish groups that operate and that have compounds and do political organizing. Keep in mind that the Kurdish people of Iran face a great deal of oppression, they’re not allowed to learn in their own language in the schools. They face discrimination. They’re a great deal poorer than the rest of Iran. So the Kurdish people have very legitimate grievances against the government in Tehran. The U.S. has taken advantage of that.
In the case of one group, the P.K.K. or the Kurdistan Workers Party and they are along with Israel sponsoring them to carry out guerrilla raids inside Iran and its part of a much wider plan by the United States to foment discontent and actual terrorist activities by ethnic Iranians in various parts of Iran. And when I was in northern Iraq, I was able to determine that that kind of activity is going on from Iraqi soil under the Kurdish controlled areas of Iraq, into Iran.
AMY GOODMAN: How did you get to the guerrilla camp?
REESE ERLICH: Well, it’s quite interesting, two cell phone calls and a drive up into the mountains. One of the arguments by the Kurdish regional government of Iraq and of the United States is that they can’t find these guerrillas because it’s so inhospitable territory that no one can find them. They’re operating from secret bases, et cetera. But all I did was drive up into the closest Iraqi village and asked the local driver and they say oh, yeah, which of the guerrilla camp do you want to see and we’ll take you right up to them. So they are very easy to find.
AMY GOODMAN: So now, explain the difference. Explain the P.K.K. and the P.J.A.K.
REESE ERLICH: The P.K.K. is the mother organization if you will. It was founded by Oshelan, the Turkish Kurd who is now in jail, charged with terrorism. The P.K.K. by the way, is listed on the United States State Department List of Terrorist Organizations. The P.J.A.K., the Party for Free Life of Kurdistan is the Iranian affiliate. The P.K.K., about two years ago split into four parties in each of the countries where is the Kurds live. In Syria, Iraq, Turkey and Iran. So the P.J.A.K. is the Iranian affiliate. Basically they’re still part of the same organization. In order to get to the P.J.A.K. interviews that I did, you had to go through two P.K.K. based camps with walkie-talkies and soldiers and guerillas and so on. For all intents and purposes they’re the same thing.
AMY GOODMAN: And can you explain the U.S. relationship with these organizations?
REESE ERLICH: Well, it’s very complicated. Because on the one hand, the United States is very much opposes to the P.K.K.'s actions in Turkey. On the other hand they're supporting P.K.K.’s attack on Iran. This is kind of typical of the clandestine efforts by the United States when we saw the U.S. support for the Mujahadeen against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. They sided with some pretty nefarious characters who ended up forming al Qaeda and bombing New York.
So once again, the U.S. is allying with one faction of this party, but not with the other, playing a very dangerous game and they’re playing a very similar game with the Mujahadeen al-Halb, another Iranian group and with groups in Baluchestan which is near the Pakistan Iranian boarder where some revolutionary guard buses were blown up. It’s a very very dangerous, duplicitous game that the United States is playing.
AMY GOODMAN: You talked about how Ochelan’s political organization, Radical Kurdistan’s Workers Party, P.K.K. is classified as a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department. And then P.J.A.K.’s relationship with the party supposed to be at arms length. You had to pass through two P.K.K. checkpoints on your way to the guerrilla camps each of them relaying information up the line via walkie-talkie?
REESE ERLICH: That’s exactly right. No among other Kurdish groups that I spoke to, no one thinks that the P.K.K. and the P.J.A.K. are really separate organizations. At a minimum they very clearly coordinate their activities, get funding, weapons, et cetera. But I think in practice, their function is one organization.
AMY GOODMAN: And the Kurdish organizing in the University of Sulamani?
REESE ERLICH: Well, that’s very interesting. The political parties in northern Iraq, the Iranian Kurdish political parties include the K.D.P.I. which is the Iranian Kurdish — it’s a Kurdish party of Iran — let’s try that again, K.D.P.I. is the Democratic Kurdish Party of Iran, and Komala, are two long standing organizations, they carry out political organizing among Iranian Kurds. As I mentioned, the situation is very difficult for Kurds living in Iran. They cross over into the border into Iraq sometimes. It’s very easy to get across the smugglers trails. So those two parties have Peshmurga guerrilla groups, but they are not engaged in armed activity against the United States. So when you go to the University in Sulamani, the different Kurdish parties have their supporters and they organize house meetings and various kinds of political activities to support their demands within Iranian Kurdistan.
AMY GOODMAN: Reese Erlich, the Guardian newspaper recently reported that the Bush administration is scrambling to prevent Turkey from attacking Kurdish controlled areas in Northern Iraq. U.S. officials fear such an attack would open up a third front in the battle to save Iraq from disintegration. Turkish sources said special forces operations have already begun in northern Iraq to target fighters connected to the P.K.K. the Kurdish Worker’s Party.
This would not be the first time Turkey’s invaded Northern Iraq 10 years ago. Turkey sent 40,000 troops into Iraq. But there has been no large scale Turkish interventions since the U.S. invasion. The U.S. Has vowed to crack down on the P.K.K., but Turkey accuses the U.S. for playing a double game in Northern Iraq. Officials say the C.I.A. is covertly funding and arming the P.K.K. sister organization the Iran based Kurdistan Free Life Party to destabilize the Iranian government.
REESE ERLICH: That’s exactly what I was alluding to earlier which is, the U.S. plays a very, very dangerous game by supporting some in the ethnic communities who have legitimate grievances against Iran. So the Turks know exactly what’s going on, they don’t believe the disclaimers issued by the United States. They have their own agenda to pursue. The Kurds of Turkey face a great deal of oppression, probably even worse than inside Iran. There have been horrendous crimes committed by the Turkish government against the Kurdish population and for some, the P.K.K. is seen as a legitimate resistance organization. The problem of course is it’s more or less a cult formed around Oshelan and you’ve got two, the Turkish government on the one hand and the P.K.K. on the other, neither which offer a real alternative for the Kurdish people.
So Turkey has indeed invaded Northern Iraq in the 1990’s in an attempt to wipe out the P.K.K. which was unsuccessful. At a time when the U.S. is escalating the war in Baghdad, threatening to attack Iran, suddenly Turkey could get involved in clashes with the Kurdish regional government in Iraq. So what is now a mess, will become an incredibly bigger mess.
AMY GOODMAN: And finally Reese Erlich, the relationship of Britain and Israel, both U.S. Allies with these parties.
REESE ERLICH: Israel is backing various Kurdish groups. Both among the Iraqi Kurds as well as the P.J.A.K. among the Iranian Kurds. For Israel that have a long history of supporting non-Arab countries in an effort to divide the Arab world so they supported the Shah of Iran, Hali Salasi in Ethiopia. Turkey, they were allied in Turkey for many years and they see trying to use the Kurds in the same way. You have Israeli security officials training the guards at the Arabial Airport in northern Iraq. You have training of special anti-terrorism squads. I think they’re working with P.J.A.K. although this is all denied by P.J.A.K. and the Israelis are also playing a very dangerous game because they are intervening in the affairs of Iraq and causing a great deal of trouble both for Iran and now they’re outs with Turkey who was their long-time ally.
AMY GOODMAN: You described in your forth coming book about Israel participating actively in — with Mossad agents posing as businessmen setting up shop in the K.R.G. soon after the 2003 U.S. invasion, in B.B.C. TV, discovering Israeli former special forces soldiers training Kurdish security at the airport. Say more about that.
REESE ERLICH: Yeah, exactly. The B.B.C. did a very good television special in which they interviewed these former Israeli intelligence agents who are now allegedly working as private contractors, much like the C.I.A. does with it’s agents around the world. So it was on TV and when I asked the Iran — the Iraqi officials about this, they denied everything, even though they had been on TV and an obviously reputable news organization. I had talked to various people who had met with supposed Israeli businessmen who were much more interested in arms trades and intelligence and that sort of thing.
So the Israelis have significantly stepped up their activities in northern Iraq. I think if ultimately the Iraq war goes very badly for the United States, as all indications are that it will, eventually Iraq will split into three different countries including an independent Kurdistan on the north and the Israelis hope to benefit from that by having a beachhead against the Sunni and the Shiia and Arab parts of Iraq and as well as the other neighboring Arab countries. That’s a long time goal of the Israelis.
AMY GOODMAN: Reese Erlich is an independent radio producer and journalist, he reports on Iran on the latest issue of Mother Jones magazine. He is the author of the forth coming book The Iran Agenda: The Real Story of U.S. Policy in the Middle East Crisis. I spoke to him in San Francisco.