1021 GMT April 18, 2019
First of all, please talk about your early life and education.
I was born to a religious family in Koy Sanjaq, a town in northern Iraq in 1938. My father, grandfather and grand-grand father were all clerics. First I studied at a state school for a while but later went to my father’s seminary where many students studied high levels of Islamic courses.
In what language did you study the courses?
The course books were in Arabic but the explanations were in Kurdish.
How long did it take to finish school?
I was in Koy Sanjaq until I turned 18 then I moved to Cairo where I was admitted to the faculty of law and jurisprudence after passing entrance exam and interview. I got my B.A. in 1962 and in the same year I started my political activities which led to the confiscation of my passport.
Was it during the rule of Gamal Abdel Nasser?
At the time, I worked for Cairo’s Kurdish radio and continued my studies but I changed my major from law and jurisprudence to philosophy and got my M.A.
When did you return to Iraq?
I went back to Iraq in 1968 and was employed as philosophy instructor at Basra University.
Did you continue your political activities?
I officially became a member of the Kurdistan Democratic Party. So, my activities were mainly under the umbrella of the KDP.
Do you mean you worked under the leadership of Mullah Mustafa Barzani?
Yes. During the time of Mullah Mustafa, I was the assistant of Shawkat Akrawi, the representative of Iraqi Kurds’ uprising in Cairo. After getting my PhD in philosophy, I once again went to the Egyptian capital in 1973. My doctoral thesis was about “The Brethren of Purity” and their goals and philosophy. The Brethren of Purity were a famous society of philosophers. In Cairo, I became the representative of Kurds until 1975 when the organization of Iraqi Kurds’ uprising dismantled following the Algiers Agreement signed between Iran’s Shah and Saddam Hussein.
After that, Jalal and I along with five other friends formed the PUK. I was the link between the PUK in Cairo and the KDP in Iraq until 1975.
Who were with you in Cairo at that time?
There were few people with me in Cairo including Master Muhammad Ismael, who is fortunately alive and resides in Erbil, and a number of others. But in Basra, we had a clandestine organization with nearly 700 members who were linked in a network of teams with two or three members. In 1972, when an agreement was signed between the KDP and the government in Baghdad, I became the KDP representative in Basra. After a while, I was tasked to form a secret organization of military officers who were in Basra, Amarah, etc. and had links with the party.
Although the political situation in Iraq was so dangerous, I agreed to form the secret military organization. At the same time, I raised a family and had my political and cultural activities.
When did you first travel to Tehran?
Those days when I was in charge of the party, I visited Tehran. At that time, Mullah Mustafa and Iran had cordial relations. After the trip, I returned to Cairo and the Algiers Agreement was signed.
When did your friendship with Talabani begin?
We are relatives and both from the same city. He is four or five years older than me. We met each other in Cairo later. He also had a close relationship with my father. At the time, my father Mullah Masum was a senior religious figure in Iraq and the first cleric who rose up against Abd al-Karim Qasim.
When the Kurdistan uprising began, my father was asked to support Qasim but he refused because he believed his support would be a setback to Kurds. Therefore, he was imprisoned.
Were all your family members involved in politics?
Political activities are inherited in our family. I was mainly preoccupied with writing, media or political and diplomatic activities. For a long time, I was in charge of the party politburo and was involved in talks with the Iraqi government between 1984 and 1992.
How did you establish the PUK?
When I embarked on my political career, Kurdistan was a breeding ground of fighting. Talabani had forged relationships with people and activists in the region.
Having offices abroad was very important. Therefore, we created offices from the US to Kuwait.
A year after the establishment of the PUK, we formed armed groups in Iraq’s Kurdistan in 1976. Those days, a number of our forces were killed in Turkey but two months later, we had a show of force in Erbil’s Haji Omaran city.
This coincides with Iran's Islamic Revolution. It is said that you tried to communicate with Iranian revolutionaries.
We fully supported the revolution. When Imam Khomeini was in exile in Paris, we along with Adil Murad and Ahmad Bamarni, who is now an ambassador, met the Imam twice. The first meeting was in public where everyone could speak. I remember Imam Khomeini asked us to speak in public but we told him that we have a private message. The next day, we had a private meeting and said that we fully support your struggle to topple the Shah. We reiterated that the Shah was the enemy of Iranian people and our enemy.
After the 1975 Algiers Agreement, the Shah turned hostile against the Kurdish movement. Ideologically speaking, we were at odds with him. We told the Imam that we are ready to help you. If you want, we can give your supporters military equipment and train them. Imam Khomeini said that “we want to have a peaceful struggle and 'God is the Greatest' will be our sole weapon. If we failed, then we would think about taking up arms and then you could help us”.
The Imam asked us about our demand and we replied nothing but wishing for your success and the Iranian people. When the Imam returned to Tehran and before the victory of the Islamic Revolution, we met each other. We wanted to cross the border with fake passports. We decided to go from Turkey and then to Kurdistan, Iraq. Adil Abdul-Mahdi, who is now the oil minister, was with us. I remember we went to Orumieh [Iran’s West Azerbaijan province] and that day the bus drivers were holding the picture of the Shah. At the checkpoints, they changed the photo of the Shah with that of the Imam. We spent a night in Oshnavieh and then went to Sardasht.
The border guards told us that we could not cross the frontier at the moment. As the guards went to have a dinner, we took the muddy road. In a Zooreh village, a guy named Abbas was waiting for us. We rest there. The late Mulla Naser was with us. He asked us to leave him there and continue our route but we told him we wouldn't do that. We continued and reached Navzang, which was Jalal Talabani's headquarters. There is a river between Iran’s Nokan and Iraq’s Navzand.
Did you later come back to Tehran after a meeting with Talabani and a days-long rest?
When the Imam was in Tehran, we went to meet him –this time as state officials. They warmly received us in Sardasht and then went to Tabriz [Iran’s East Azerbaijan province]. One of the religious figures in Tabriz coordinated our mission. We resided in a hotel in Tehran and no one asked us whether we had passports or not.
The Imam was at Alavi School. Omar Dababeh was one of us who spoke Farsi fluently. I spoke Arabic and the Imam fully understood but he replied in Farsi. The Imam's grandson, Hossein, the son of Mostafa, was the translator. We congratulated the victory of the revolution and recalled our Paris visit. We said that we were seeking good relations. We asked the Imam to help us take back the remaining weapons from the Kurdish uprising in the 70s. The next day, we met Mehdi Bazargan, who was the head of Iran's interim government. I thought he knew what we were looking for. Then we referred to Dariush Forouhar, who was minster for labor and social affairs. After that our relations officially started.
Did you get the weapons?
Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei was the Imam's representative in the High Council of Defense. We spoke to him for about an hour. I met Major General Valiollah Fallahi who was Iran's chief of staff. Then I heard that Fallahi was killed along with Javad Fakouri. We had good relations with Fakouri. General Fallahi said he planned to bring Talabani to Iran to help him. Talabani went to Vienna. There he asked for Iran's visa and then traveled to Tehran. Talabani received a warm welcome in Tehran and we went to the military headquarters and discussed very important issues.
Did the level of cooperation change?
Cooperation between us and our army friends was good. The sick and injured used to go to Iran for treatment or they were sent to Europe. Up to 1981, I used to go to Tehran using a nickname via Damascus on a Syrian passport and from Iran I returned to Kurdistan on an Iranian travel permit.
Negotiations between the PUK and the Iraqi government began at the end of 1983. How long did the talks last?
The talks continued for a year. In a statement on January 17, 1985, we announced the inconclusive end of the talks. I was attending the negotiations as a representative of the PUK and Ali Hassan al-Majid was the envoy of the Baghdad government who was not then dubbed as “Chemical Ali”. During the time I was the PUK representative, we signed five agreements.
What was Hassan al-Majid’s personality?
He was a harsh and bad-tempered man. Once in the negotiations in which Kak Fereydoon Abdulqader and Mazen Omar were also present, a dispute arose over the role of the army and military. “Chemical Ali” expressed his disagreement. While getting up angrily and leaving the room insultingly, he said “give my regards to Mam Jalal, good luck”. I immediately banged on the table and said, “We aren’t your hostages we won’t surrender to you”. Our friend in the delegation, including Kak Fereydoon asked, “Why did you get angry? You are usually composed.” I said he insulted us and I had to respond to him. The meeting ended and we went out.
Saddam had heard about the story and Ali Hassan al-Majid came in the evening to apologize. Finally on the January 17, 1985, we announced that we would not continue the talks. During the negotiations, our relations with Iran faded due to its opposition to talks with the central government. We sought close ties with the other factions and Iran.
It was the time that followed Nasr and Fath operations conducted in cooperation with Iran in Kirkuk?
That’s right, the operations were carried out in Kirkuk.
How Halabja disaster take place?
In 1988, the Iraqi government was determined to destroy us completely. The government started its plan with a genocide using chemical weapons that led to the massacre. I settled inبرگلو and Kak Noushirvan Mostafa was also there. Mam Jalal was in the village of Yaghsamar. I was there when I heard of my son’s death in London. I planned to go to London when the Halabja disaster took place. I hadn’t seen my family for more than three years.
Hadn’t you visited your family for more than three years?
We had neither seen each other nor had a phone conversation. My son was ill. At first, he was hospitalized in Damascus and then they went to London and I remained in the mountains. We didn’t have any chance to meet each other.
Had you been involved in non-political activities such as teaching or research?
Yes, we had a very difficult time. Sometimes we didn’t have meat for 40 days or we didn’t have enough money to send the injured to Sardasht for treatment and we borrowed money.
Of course, Iran provided good services in curing the sick and injured. On Halabja, Iran was a big help. The interesting point is that at first the Arab states held Iran responsible for the attack on Halabja, but after an investigating team from Britain and other experts studied the case, it was clear that the Iraqi government was responsible.
How were your ties with Iran after the end of the war when Iran accepted Resolution 598?
We had a meeting with the head of the then Iranian government. At first, Iran implied that it was difficult to support us due to the end of the war. It even proposed that we leave the border regions but later conditions changed because Iraq wasn’t committed to the agreements. Therefore, all the equations changed following the Iraqi attack on Kuwait.