Turkey is bombing Christians, Yazidis, and Kurds in the northwest Iraq autonomous region. A Turkish drone strike in the Sulaymaniyah Province killed three civilians. A bomb dropped in the attack landed in a resort near three children and parents in a river.
Erdogan says he is “only attacking PKK bases” in the Kurdish autonomous region. Turkish forces occupy 60 villages in the Kurdish autonomous region of Iraq. The reality is Erdogan is attacking civilians pursuing a plan to annex areas that Turkey held during the Ottoman Empire. “Turkey is today’s Nazi Germany. Erdogan believes that a Good Kurd is a Dead Kurd,” says Diliman Abdulkader, co-founder and chief spokesperson for American Friends of Kurdistan.
Abdulkader, who was born in Kirkuk, a disputed territory in northern Iraq, and his family spent several years in the UN al-Hol refugee camp before being resettled in the US. Abdulkader earned an MA in International Peace and Conflict Resolution from American University in Washington, DC. The al-Hol camp, as he points out in this interview holds the very problematic 75,000 to 80,000 former ISIS fighters and families that home countries, especially in Europe do not want to repatriate.
Abdulkader previously headed EMET’s Kurdistan project. He has experience on Capitol Hill with Administration agencies as an effective advocate and educator for Kurdish independence and the reliability of Kurds as loyal US allies.
As Abdulkader points out the Kurds in the Kurdistan autonomous region are divided. The Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) led by the Barzani clan has economic relations with Erdogan’s AKP-led autocratic government and likely supplies intelligence to Turkey on PKK bases in the autonomous region. The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) group is led by the Talabani clan of Sulaymaniyah which has closer relations and a border with Iran. Yet, the PUK shares ties with the Syrian Kurds—YPG, YPJ forces. Erdogan accuses them of being an extension of the Turkey-based Kurdistan Workers Party, the PKK, that the US and others have designated a ‘terrorist’ group.
The division of the Kurds, as Abdulkader argues, allows host countries like Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria, to ‘play’ them resulting in some Kurdish populations in those countries rejecting autonomy, instead of an independent polity. That has been a long-cherished objective promised over 100 years ago during the Versailles peace treaty discussions but denied in 1923 under the Treaty of Lausanne establishing the Turkish Republic.
In a recent Washington Examiner article, Abdulkader pointed out that US “status quo policies in Iraq since 2003 have cost US taxpayers $2 trillion dollars and more than 4,500 US military lives producing a failed State.” He argues that it is time to “step away from Baghdad and invest in the Kurdish autonomous region as the Kurds are pro-US”. It would in his view be “the best result for US taxpayers.”
In a companion National Interest article, Abdulkader discussed the importance of renewing US ties with Syrian Kurds. That, he believes is the possibility of current US unity talks with Syrian Kurdish factions to “establish long term ties”. The objective would be to bring the Syrian Kurds “to the international table in Geneva” and put “all (Syrian) Kurdish factions on one side” —the PYD and the KDP- led ENKS group, as the latter has ties to Erdogan. Erdogan wants these talks to fail to prevent north east Syria from becoming another Kurdish autonomous zone like the KRG in Iraq. As Abdulkader suggests, more “troops on the ground is not the solution.” The existing 600 US troops in Syria have been leveraged by the performance of the Kurdish -led Syrian Democratic Forces.
In regard to the Kurds in the Kurdistan Region, they want a greater US role to assist in institution building and creating transparency in governance to tackle corruption.
Abdulkader believes there is a healing process going on between the Syrian Kurds and the US. This despite the revelations about Kurdish relations in former Trump National Security Adviser, Ambassador John Bolton’s, The Room where it all Happened: A White House Memoir. This history covers the US withdrawal from Syria, the inaction in Kirkuk against Iran-backed Iraqi Shiite Popular Mobilization Forces and failure to counter Turkish and jihadist allies ethnic cleansing of the former largely Kurdish enclave of Afrin in northwest Syria. Abdulkader also cites the role of US Ambassador James Jeffrey for siding with Erdogan’s agenda for much of the problems.
We discussed Ambassador Bolton’s revelation in his memoir about the failure to form a multi-national force to monitor Turkish and Jihadist allies’ activities in the so-called northeastern border ‘safe zone’ with Turkey. Abdulkader notes while “preferable as an alternative,” the realities were the EU allies could not raise troops and rely on US commitments. Moreover, the multi-national force needed to have Turkey withdraw from the safe zone. A further complication was Turkey’s membership in NATO. NATO, as Abdulkader pointed out was “silent” on the incursion in Syria and the recent drone attacks in the Sulaymaniyah province in the Iraqi Kurdish autonomous zone.
On the matter of the effectiveness of the US Congressional Kurdish American Caucus, Abdulkader indicated it is only activated in reaction to crises. The long-term solution, Abdulkader suggests is education on Kurdish aspirations in the Middle East, the building of a common agenda to achieve independence with transparency in governance and demonstration of reliability as a US ally equivalent to that of Israel.
What follows is the Israel News Talk Radio- Beyond the Matrix interview with Diliman Abdelkader.
Rod Bryant: We have not talked about this subject in quite some time Kurdistan, the Kurdish people, and what is the latest information about what is happening in the region. We have not had this guest on for quite some time. He transitioned into a new position to put his focus more on the Kurds. Jerry, why do not you introduce our guest.
Jerry Gordon: Our guest is Diliman Abdulkader. He is the Co-Founder and Chief Spokesperson for the American Friends of Kurdistan. We had extensively interviewed him when he was with a previous policy shop in Washington DC. He is outstanding as an educator and advocate on behalf of the interests of all the Kurdish people, those in Turkey, Syria, Kurdistan, or Iran. He is articulate in American idiomatic English which is a plus. He knows what to do on Capitol Hill. He knows who to contact, and he is also appreciative of the constancy on this issue regardless of which Administration is in power in Washington DC. The takeaway from this program is outstanding. It is a line from Ambassador John Bolton's memoir, The Room Where it all Happens: A White House Memoir. Erdogan says, "The only good Kurd is a dead one."
Rod Bryant: If you want to know the disposition of Erdogan, the Turkish leader, and what he thinks about the Kurdish people, that is the ultimate statement. He has continued war against the Kurds over many months since the media disengaged from coverage of Kurdistan, or the Kurds. They are still being attacked and bombed by Turkish and jihadist allies. There are innocent civilians being killed. There have been wholesale attacks on Christians, Kurds, and Yazidis in the region. With that being said, we want to put more light on Kurdish problem, Jerry. It is time to illuminate the area and see what we can do to help the cause.
Rod Bryant: Diliman Abdulkader has worked extensively for, and passionately lobbied Congress, for favorable judgment toward the Kurdish people. Diliman, you are no longer with EMET. What are you doing now? Tell us how does that affects your work on behalf of the Kurdish people?
Diliman Abdulkader: Thanks to both of you for having me back on. Great to speak with you again. As you said, I am no longer with the previous policy shop where I directed the Kurdistan Project there. Now, I am the co-founder of American Friends of Kurdistan (AFK), which is an advocacy and education organization based here in Washington, DC. We launched AFK in mid-November 2019, in response to President Trump's withdrawal from Syria. Our objective and main mission is to strengthen American-Kurdish relations, preserving American national security interests in the Middle East while advocating and educating on behalf of the Kurdish people on Congress.
Jerry Gordon: Diliman, you wrote a thought-provoking article that appeared in The Washington Examiner about shifts in the failed US policies in Iraq towards Kurdistan. What are the takeaways from that article for the benefit of our listeners?
Diliman Abdulkader: In regard to Iraqi Kurdistan, the United States has unfortunately a status quo policy, we have had since 2003. Under the current Administration and the previous ones, the United States has spent over the 17 years from 2003-2020 over $2 trillion in Iraq alone. Nearly 4,500 American service member lives have been sacrificed and lost in Iraq alone. Trillions of dollars, military equipment have been lost. What have been the returns for American taxpayers? Not much. Iraq is still a failed and weak state in my view. We have gone through countless elections in Iraq, none of which have produced stable and prosperous, governments. None of which have tackled Iraq's main issues such as the economy and the security apparatus of the state.
My argument in this piece was, "Let us step away from Baghdad. Yes, we want to have an influence in Baghdad to push back Iran. Whether we like it or not, at the end of the day Iran is Iraq's neighbor." 60% of the Iraqi population is Shia, while Iran is Shia. They do have cultural economic ties that we just cannot push these two states away from each other. The alternative to this, is having US investments based in the northern part of the country in the autonomous Kurdistan region. Largely because the Kurds are very pro-American, pro-western. I also argued in the piece that, “Americans are starting to realize that gradually." Especially our military. That is why we have increased our military presence there, in Erbil, the capital of Sulaymaniyah province and Halabja as well. I think that is where we can see the best results for our national security, for American taxpayers as well. In return, we also back a loyal ally, the Kurds.
Jerry Gordon: Your National Interest article talked about renewing US relations with Syrian Kurds. Currently, the administration has so-called "unity talks" with Kurdish groups in Syria. The question is, what is behind these Administration "unity talks"?
Diliman Abdulkader: Since the US withdrawal in October 2019, the Kurds have felt a sense of betrayal by the United States. However, the United States has taken steps to sow these ties to establish this partnership, long term. The United States gradually realizes that, "The Kurds are our true partners.” Even though we do not want to have thousands of American troops on the ground, currently we only have 600. If we want to see a stable Syria, we must bring Kurds to the international table in Geneva, to achieve that. The Kurds have attempted to be recognized internationally because they have been given pushback from Turkey, which unfortunately is an adversary of the Kurds. To achieve that, the United States wants all the Kurdish factions and components within northeast Syria to be on one side. That is why it is mediating these talks between the different factions, which is basically the leading PYD political party, which controls the YPG-YPJ fighters. The other main opposition is the KDP the Barzani-led faction ENK. There is some distress between those two groups largely because the Barzani-led parties have been known to have ties with Turkey’s Erdogan which attacks the other side. From a Kurdish perspective these unity talks are welcomed. This is a great opportunity for Kurds to defy Erdogan's attempt at dividing the region. Erdogan's goal is making sure these talks fail to prevent an autonomous Northeast Syrian Kurdish-led region like the autonomous Kurdish region of Iraq. The Unites States is looking beyond Turkey's ambition and goals and pushing the Kurds to communicate and stand together.
Rod Bryant: What is the relationship between the United States and the Kurdish people after the pull-out from Syria? How damaging has this been to our relationship with the Kurdish people, with Kurdish leadership? What do you think is going on between America and the Kurdish region?
Diliman Abdulkader: It is difficult to say because in every part of the region it is different, and every U.S. Administration is different. I am sure we will get to it later as we have seen in the most recent news, what this administration feels about the Kurdish people. All the Kurds can do is attempt to communicate with all sides, be bipartisan, because at the end of the day, the Kurds are non-State actors. We rely on Baghdad even though there is an autonomous Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in the north. However, the KRG does not have the tools and capabilities that a State needs, so we rely on capitols like Baghdad. We rely on Turkey to be the voice for the minorities, for example, the Kurds in Turkey. That is why we need America's support and American backing in the region. As of now, in Syria, I would say it is gradually healing. However, at the end of the day there is still Kurdish territory lost due to the US withdrawal. The Kurds still demand that the United States play a bigger role in pushing back its NATO ally, Turkey. In Iraq, there is a great partnership between the coalition to defeat ISIS and the Kurdish Peshmerga forces. However, the ordinary Kurds would like the United States to play a greater role internally regarding institution building, accountability and transparency.
Rod Bryant: So, the Kurds do not necessarily want more US troops on the ground as much as more assistance and infrastructure support? Is that what you are suggesting?
Diliman Abdulkader: That is the argument I made in one of my pieces, that, "Troops on the ground is not always the answer," and also the endless war argument if you would put in countless troops for many years. As you can see, the 600 US troops in Northeast Syria still does the jobs the 2,000 troops that were there before. The key is to not fully withdraw. That was my same argument in Iraqi Kurdistan. Yes, we want American troop presence because it is in the US interest to be there. Ordinary Kurds on the ground want the United States to not just focus on a military partnership, but institution-building, tackling the corruption between the parties that lead this government.
Jerry Gordon: Diliman, why is Erdogan bombing areas that the US and the Kurds liberated in Iraq? Bombing Yazidis, Christians, and Kurds? What is going on there?
Diliman Abdulkader: Erdogan's argument, he is targeting not all Kurds, he is targeting the PKK, the Turkish Kurdistan Workers' Party. However, this is obviously not true. The areas that Erdogan is bombing is filled with civilians. You mentioned the Yazidis, this is the area in Sinjar or Shingal, as the Kurds call it, that hold refugee camps where 3000 Yazidi women and girls are still missing. They are casualties of Erdogan's continuous bombardment and targeting of the Kurds, supposedly the PKK. Recently, Turkey has conducted drone strikes against the Kurds deep into the Iraqi Autonomous Kurdistan region in the province of Sulaymaniyah, in a resort town where three civilians were killed. Erdogan's argument is Turkish forces are after the PKK. However, little Kurdish girls, women and families in resort areas are not PKK militants. Turkey is trying to destabilize this autonomous region. Something to pay attention to is Turkey attempting to control parts of the autonomous Kurdistan region where they defy the Turkish government, where they defy Turkish expansion into their region, to kneel and accept that this is historical Ottoman Turkish territory. The Kurds say, "No, this is our territory." Parts of the autonomous Kurdistan region have agreed, unfortunately and partner with the Erdogan government, but still try to separate themselves from this invasion.
Rod Bryant: Is there a reason why they are willing to negotiate with Erdogan? What do they have to lose? Is it one of these things where, "If we give them this little bit of territory and let him claim it, pretty soon he's going to try to claim everything"? What is the situation?
Diliman Abdulkader: Exactly. You hit it the nail on the head That is the fear of the Kurds. Given Turkey's history, we know what Turkey's capable of, not just towards the Kurds. Look at Cyprus since the Turkish invasion of 1974. Once Turkey enters a region and occupies it, its goal is to annex this region. Sadly, Turkey already has 10 military bases in Northern Iraq, an autonomous Kurdistan region in KDP-controlled areas. Turkey wants to expand these areas. Turkey currently controls nearly 60 villages with the permission of its KDP partners, the ruling Barzani clan that governs the Kurdistan regional government. Erdogan's objective is to continue this expansion well into the autonomous region. I think the boiling point will be Sulaymaniyah province which has a patriotic history of protesting, demonstrating, and standing against these adversaries.
Jerry Gordon: Diliman, what is your information about these groups in the Iraqi Kurdistan regional government who are supplying intelligence to the Turks to conduct these activities? Why are they motivated to do that?
Diliman Abdulkader: If you look at the autonomous Kurdistan region, it is split between the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), which is affiliated with the Barzani clan, and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), which is affiliated with the Talabani family and Talabani clan. KDP-controlled areas in the north near the Turkish border, is where the PKK operates within the autonomous region. The KDP does not control all of PKK, areas. The PKK and KDP have tensions. The KDP's interest is to push out the PKK. The KDP has both militarily and economically aligned with the Erdogan's AKP government to push out the PKK. This is not a popular position within the Kurdish autonomous region. We understand the economic situation of the Kurdistan autonomous region. They share a border with Turkey, an economic partnership is welcomed. However, it should not come at the cost of allowing Turkish forces, military bases, inside the Kurdistan region. It should not come at the cost of allowing air strikes on civilian areas in the Kurdistan region. The Kurdistan regional government led by the KDP has not spoken out about Turkish aggression, instead it sheds light on PKK's presence. The argument from the Kurdish perspective is, "The PKK is a Kurdish group inside Kurdistan. Where else should they be?” This is a Kurdish group that is inside its own territories, and the KDP wants to push these groups out. Unfortunately, this comes with a military partnership between the AKP, Erdogan's government and the KDP. That includes intelligence sharing because Turkey would not get this information without on the ground intel.
Jerry Gordon: The Talabani group however has relationships with Iran, don't they?
Diliman Abdulkader: That is right. They are closer because their border is with Iran and have closer ties with Iran. The Talabani group has attempted to defy Turkish authority over their regions by partnering with the Kurds in Syria giving them weapons and aiding them in recent years. However, at the end of the day, Turkish forces are conducting drone strikes in the Talabani areas. This would not be possible without some sort of communication between these Kurdish parties and the Turkish government. The Kurdish Regional Government should stand with the Kurds, it should tell Turkey to leave its territory. It should not take a tough stance against other Kurdish groups. Instead, it should take a tough stance against an intervention from an invading force such as Turkey.
Rod Bryant: When you said at the beginning of the show that this is a complex situation, you were not mincing word. This is really complex, especially for the person who may not know what are the Syrian Kurdish PYD and YPG versus the PKK in Turkey. The whole Kurdish region, from Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey . . . not all these groups are in agreement with whether they want their own independence, correct?
Diliman Abdulkader: That is correct. Some Kurds do not want their independence. That is a stand that I disagree with. I think state sovereignty and self-determination is the key to securing individual rights for the Kurds and access to international platforms. It is an historical issue that these adversaries surrounding the Kurdish people—Iraq, Turkey, Iran, even Syria—have always pitted the Kurds against one another. Unfortunately, these different groups have taken the bait to one up each other because everybody wants to rule the region.
Rod Bryant: What revelations were there in Ambassador Bolton’s memoir about the current Administration's relationship with the Kurdish people?
Diliman Abdulkader: While I did not read the whole book, I did read the Kurdish sections. Naturally, for us it was not a surprise. We knew the views on the Kurds the Administration held. What Bolton’s book did was confirm our views. The withdrawal from Syria was proof of that, the inaction in Kirkuk, Iraqi in 2017, the inaction in Afrin the Kurdish enclave in northwestern Syria were proof of that. The Kurds were expecting this. The Kurds knew that U.S. Ambassador James Jeffrey was not totally on the Kurdish side. He was pushing more Turkish policy inside Syria, forcing the Kurds to take down their defenses before the withdrawal occurred. Unfortunately, this is the reality of the Kurds, whether we like it or not, we still must work with this Administration, with any Administration, Democrat or Republican, and we will continue to do so.
Jerry Gordon: One of the revelations in the Bolton book was about the failure to form a multinational monitoring force that would have been a bulwark against the demands of Erdogan to conquer the whole area. Why did that fail?
Diliman Abdulkader: The international forces was one of the top asks by the Kurdish ally. This was an alternative to having a large US presence there. This would have been in the United States' favor. It did not come into fruition largely because European allies were not able to put in the number of forces that were needed to be there. Due to politics, the fragility of the area, their argument was that they could not rely on the United States because, “they may withdraw." That was the reality and the real picture. It would have been the best alternative to having US forces there. Despite the US-led coalition fighting ISIS being present there, an international force is still an answer. It is not too late. However, this requires that Turkey withdraw, so you cannot have stability in Syria without Turkey fully withdrawing from Syria. To do that, you must have an international force that is willing to push back Turkey through political and military means. By military means, I do not mean full-on war with Turkey, but instead having a presence there, making sure they do not continue to expand their areas that were greenlighted to them by the US back in October 2019.
Rod Bryant: Did Turkey's membership in NATO have anything to do with that failure?
Diliman Abdulkader: It has everything to do with that failure. Unfortunately, there is not a mechanism within NATO to suspend or eject a partner. Turkey has been abusing its NATO membership to invade parts of Kurdistan to kill civilians. Unfortunately, NATO has been silent. We were discussing the Turkish intervention in the Iraqi Kurdistan autonomous region, there was not one word from NATO. There was literally a video of a family in a resort, a dad was teaching the kids how to swim, and a Turkish drone bomb dropped right next to them. Fortunately, no harm was done, it was a few meters away. This is the reality. Is this what NATO stands for? How long are we going to allow Turkey to do what it wants, and how many passes will Turkey get until there is an ask, or is it too late? I have said in my tweets, Turkey is today's Nazi Germany. Their whole mission and ideology inside the Turkish state is to eliminate the Kurdish people. Turkey's war is not only with the PKK, it is aimed at all Kurds. I think John Bolton put this in his book, he said, "For Erdogan, a good Kurd is a dead Kurd." That is something that the international community must pay attention to before it is too late.
Rod Bryant: I realize that international politics can make some strange bedfellows. In the early 1930s with Hitler, several US politicians were enamored by Hitler and Mussolini, because of their fascist ideals. This is before they started terrorizing Europe. We see the same thing with Erdogan. They really do not like him, but it is better than what we could get elsewhere. Maybe if we ousted him, there would be a worse situation. Status quo is the answer in the State Department. That has been their historical stance. Many times, the status quo ends up backfiring terribly. I am hoping this is not what is going to take place. Before you had mentioned about your organization. Could you give some information on the organization and how individuals who listen to this show can help the Kurdish people resolve the conflict in that region?
Diliman Abdulkader: Thank you. It is the American Friends of Kurdistan. You can visit and get more information at americanfriendsofkurdistan.org. We are in Washington, DC. We are doing the hard work every day that has been missing for decades for the Kurdish and the American people. We are here to go beyond the status quo policy, that we have discussed and introduce a new policy that looks at the Middle East for what it is, backs our reliable allies, where taxpayer monies are not wasted. We strongly believe, in addition to our other allies such as Israel, that the Kurds are a reliable partner that we can count on. Any assistance that we can get from viewers supporting and donating to AFK Is very appreciated, because we can get results, we have an experienced team in Washington, and we have true intentions. We try to preserve America's national security interests and have an impact on US Kurdish policy in the Middle East.
Rod Bryant: Do you feel that you have an effective ear of policymakers in DC?
Diliman Abdulkader: Honestly speaking, the short answer is no. I understand from my own experience in Washington, that this is long-term work that we must do. Lobbying does not just happen overnight. Lobbying is not just calling randomly to elected members and hoping they introduce a bill. This is about educating on the plight of the Kurds; this is about educating on the partnership that we have with Americans and the Kurds. All you need is a few Members of Congress to understand this, to push these policies forward.
Rod Bryant: Would you know the name of the congressmen that are a part of the Kurdish Caucus?
Diliman Abdulkader: Yes, I believe Congressman Rooney is one of them, and many other members of Congress are part of it. We always communicate with the members of the American-Kurdish Congressional Caucus, some have been outspoken, especially with Kurdish populations, such as in Nashville, Tennessee, with Congressman Jim Cooper.
Jerry Gordon: What is the status of these former ISIS fighters and their families, at a place where you were resident for nearly seven years, the UN al-Hol refugee camp in northeast Syria?
Diliman Abdulkader: The status has not changed much. In fact, I would argue, it has probably gotten worse, largely because COVID-19 has hit. The Kurdish authorities, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), do not have the tools that is needed to face such demands. First, the SDF is a non-state actor; second, there is the Caesar Act that was recently implemented by the United States—the Caesar Sanctions Act on Syria—which, targets the Assad family. However, it has an indirect effect on the population of Northeast Syria, meaning that it also affects the residents of the UN refugee camps. The numbers of ISIS families and Fighters at the UN al-Hol refugee camp is still approximately 75,00 to 85,000, with 14,000 foreigners there, 2,000 being Europeans. There is a whole section of the camp just focused on Iraqis, that has been neglected. The home countries of these foreign ISIS families and fighters do not want to bring these people back. The international community must provide an alternative if we are going to lighten the load on the Kurdish forces, because they still have their civilians and dissidents to focus on as well. Unfortunately, the situation is still worse. One improvement they have been trying to make, is to register the refugees and internally displaced persons there. But this has faced pushback from the refugees at the al-Hol camp.
Rod Bryant: I would assume, they do not want to be registered because they do not want to be found out, correct?
Diliman Abdulkader: No. Some have run away, some have been smuggled out for thousands of dollars, some have rioted, some have burned tents, so it is a tense situation. It is not what we have in mind as a refugee camp, people are suffering. However, there is also a darker side to this. It is more of a containment camp as well to prevent these former ISIS wives from pouring out into the global population.
Rod Bryant: Right. So, is it considered a humanitarian or containment crisis and is it possible to resolve?
Diliman Abdulkader: It is both a humanitarian and containment crisis. There must be an alternative. That is where the international community must be responsive and come forward to provide an alternative. That is why it is important to recognize this Northeast Syrian Kurdish region as an autonomous region so they can have access to the international community.
Rod Bryant: Absolutely. Diliman, thank you so much for coming on the show. Hopefully, we can have you back here soon. Keep us posted on the latest information. You have been listening to Beyond the Matrix, here on Israel News Talk Radio. Until next week, Jerry and I will say shalom, we will see you next Wednesday.
Listen to this Israel News Talk Radio – Beyond the Matrix interview.