Mustafa Barzani, the legendary Kurdish leader,
was a KGB agent code-named "RAIS," and the Kurdish armed revolution
he started Sept. 11, 1961, was in reality a KGB
covert action to destabilize Western interests in the Middle East and put additional
pressure on the Kassim government of Iraq.
Whoever dares to mention these facts publicly in Kurdistan
would face an unknown fate, possibly forced disappearance or even murder by
sophisticated means, and the whole story of KGB-Barzani ties would be dismissed
as reckless defamation by the ruling Barzani
Unfortunately for the Barzani family, these facts are not the creation of some
individuals, but the contents of KGB documents that recently became accessible
to scholars and the public, or found their way to the West with defected KGB
officers after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
This paper relies on two main documentary sources on KGB-Barzani ties. The
first is the archive of the Central
Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, which also contains
the correspondence between the KGB and the Central Committee. The most important
documents mentioned in this article go back to 1961, the peak of the Cold War.
The second source is the so-called Mitrokhin
archive, which was smuggled to the West by the defected KGB officer Vasili
Mitrokhin after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
In addition to the KGB archive, this paper also relies on the memoirs written
by former KGB officers, which refer to Barzani and the Kurdish conflict. These
include the memoirs of the former KGB Maj. Gen. Pavel Sudoplatov, who was the
head of the SMERSH, a special
department within the Soviet security services responsible for special operations
Some scholars have conducted valuable research on KGB history using publicly
accessible KGB archives. The most important research paper I was able to find
in this regard was delivered by Vladislav M. Zubok, a visiting scholar of the
National Security Archive in Washington, D.C., and can be found here.
The aim of the current paper on Barzani-KGB ties is simply the search for the
truth in the public interest. The Barzani family has established a brutal and
corrupt feudal political system in Iraqi Kurdistan under the pretext that they
led the Kurdish revolution. It is time to tell them the truth and remind them
that the Kurds are freedom-loving people and will never accept feudal rule.
The Barzani family has misused the trust of Kurdish people and become increasingly
oligarchic, with the aim of self-enrichment by illegal means and a monopoly
on political power. Murder, torture, abductions, and intimidation are among
the main methods the family uses to silence its opponents.
My own abduction
by the Parastin,
the secret service of the Barzani family, on Oct. 26, 2005, in Arbil, Kurdistan,
for publishing some articles criticizing the corrupt rule of the Barzanis, and
my subsequent release under international pressure, are further evidence that
the arbitrary power of the family is decreasing.
The great international support for my case was based on the recognition that
the truth should not be silenced.
Therefore, I see it as my duty to continue searching for the truth.
Barzani and the KGB, Old Friends
After the collapse of the Kurdish republic of
Mahabad in December
1946, Mustafa Barzani
made his way to the Soviet border with several hundred of his men. After arriving
in the Soviet Union, he received much attention from the Soviet leadership and
security services, who wanted to use the Kurds for their own ends.
The first period of Barzani's political activities in the Soviet Union would
have probably remained secret without the memoirs of the KGB's Sudoplatov,
who later became the head of the SMERSH. Sudoplatov writes that he had met Barzani
for the first time in Baku, shortly after Barzani's arrival in the Soviet Union
in 1947, with the aim of using him to destabilize Western interests in the Middle
East. Barzani and his men were to receive arms and military training in order
to be sent back to Iraq for this purpose, according to Sudoplatov.
Barzani must have been of extraordinary importance to the Soviets to be cultivated
by Sudoplatov, one of the most important figures within the security services.
Sudoplatov mentions in his memoirs
that he was responsible for the assassination of Trotsky on Stalin's order,
and for the atomic espionage that led to the building of the Soviet atom bomb.
That Sudoplatov led negotiations with Barzani is evidence of the great expectations
the Soviet leadership had for Barzani. But Sudoplatov was apparently not the
only Soviet officer to deal with Barzani, as Sudoplatov mentions other officers
who succeeded him in dealing with Barzani. Sudoplatov met Barzani for the second
time in 1952 to negotiate with him on military training, but doesn't mention
any agreement reached between them. He met Barzani again in 1953 at a military
academy in Moscow, where both of them underwent military training. Barzani was
apparently being prepared for a special task abroad.
Sudoplatov reveals in his memoirs that Barzani told him then that the ties
between his family and Russia were a hundred years old and that his family had
appealed to Russia for help before and received arms and ammunition from Russia
60 times. There are indeed other confidential reports on a visit to Russia made
by Sheikh Abdul Salam, the sheikh of Barzan, before the First World War, though
I know of no other Barzani-Russian ties before WWI.
The nature of relations between Mustafa Barzani and the Soviets during the
period of 1947-1958 has remained until now largely secret, with the exception
of the Sudoplatov memoirs. The Mitrokhin archive and the publicly accessible
KGB archive make no mention of this period, but do deliver essential information
on Barzani-KGB ties after 1958.
From the Mitrokhin archive we learn that the KGB gave Barzani the code name
"RAIS," and both the Mitrokhin and the KGB archives of the Central
Committee of the CPSU reveal the big secret behind the Kurdish revolution of
September 1961 led by Barzani. According to these archives, this was not a real
revolution but a covert action by the KGB to destabilize Western interests in
the Middle East.
Shelepin, KGB chief in the 1960s, in 1961 sent a memorandum to Nikita
Khrushchev containing plans "to cause uncertainty in government circles
of the USA, England, Turkey, and Iran about the stability of their positions
in the Middle and Near East." He offered to use old KGB connections with the
chairman of the Democratic Party of Kurdistan, Mustafa Barzani, "to activate
the movement of the Kurdish population of Iraq, Iran, and Turkey for creation
of an independent Kurdistan that would include the provinces of the aforementioned
countries." Barzani was to be provided with the necessary aid in arms and money.
"Given propitious developments," noted Shelepin with foresight, "it would become
advisable to express the solidarity of the Soviet people with this movement
of the Kurds."
"The movement for the creation of Kurdistan," he predicted, "will evoke serious
concern among Western powers and first of all in England regarding [their access
to] oil in Iraq and Iran, and in the United States regarding its military bases
in Turkey. All that will create also difficulties for [Iraqi Prime Minister
Gen. Abdul Karim] KASSIM
who has begun to conduct a pro-Western policy, especially in recent time." Shelepin
also proposed an initiative to entice Egyptian President Gamal
Abdel Nasser, a Third World leader avidly courted by both East and West,
into throwing his support behind the Kurds. Shelepin suggested informing Nasser
"through unofficial channels" that, in the event of a Kurdish victory, Moscow
"might take a benign look at the integration of the non-Kurdish part of Iraqi
territory with the UAR" – the United
Arab Republic, a short-lived union of Egypt and Syria reflecting Nasser's
pan-Arab nationalism – "on the condition of NASSER's support for the creation
of an independent Kurdistan." (Shelepin to Khrushchev, July 29, 1961, in St.-191/75gc,
Aug. 1, 1961, TsKhSD, fond 4, opis 13, delo 81, ll. 131-32 [see Zubok, 21])
When a Kurdish rebellion indeed broke out in Iraqi Kurdistan in September 1961,
the KGB quickly responded with additional proposals to exploit the situation.
KGB Deputy Chairman Peter
Ivashutin proposed – "In accord with the decision of the CC CPSU … of 1
August 1961 on the implementation of measures favoring the distraction of the
attention and forces of the USA and her allies from West Berlin, and in view
of the armed uprisings of the Kurdish tribes that have begun in the North of
Iraq" – to:
- use the KGB to organize pro-Kurdish and anti-Kassim protests in India, Indonesia,
Afghanistan, Guinea, and other countries;
- have the KGB meet with Barzani to urge him to "seize the leadership of the
Kurdish movement in his hands and to lead it along the democratic road," and
to advise him to "keep a low profile in the course of this activity so that
the West did not have a pretext to blame the USSR in meddling into the internal
affairs of Iraq"; and
- assign the KGB to recruit and train a "special armed detachment (500-700
men)" drawn from Kurds living in the USSR in the event that Moscow might need
to send Barzani "various military experts (Artillerymen, radio operators,
demolition squads, etc.)" to support the Kurdish uprising. ( P. Ivashutin
to CC CPSU, Sept. 27, 1961, St.-199/10c, Oct. 3, 1961, TsKhSD, fond 4, opis
13, delo 85, ll. 1-4 [see Zubok, 21])
What Ivashutin did not know was that the West already had information on Barzani's
special ties with the Soviet Union. U.S. officials had noted with concern the
possibility "that Barzani might be useful to Moscow." In an October
1958 cable to the State Department, three months after a military coup brought
Kassim to power, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Waldemar J. Gallman, stated that
"Communists also have potential for attack [on Iraqi Prime Minister Kassim]
on another point through returned Kurdish leader Mulla Mustafa Barzani. He spent
last eleven years in exile in Soviet Union. His appeal to majority of Iraqi
Kurds is strong and his ability [to] disrupt stability almost endless. Thus
we believe that today greatest potential threat to stability and even existence
of Qassim's [Kassim's] regime lies in hands of Communists." (Gallman to Department
of State, Oct. 14, 1958, in U.S. Department of State, Foreign Relations of
the United States, 1958-1960, Vol. XII, Washington, D.C.: Government Printing
Office, 1993, pp. 344-46 [see Zubok, 21])
Thus did the Kurdish conflict become an instrument in the hands of Moscow to
exercise pressure on successive Iraqi regimes. According to the Mitrokhin archive,
the KGB sent Yevgeny
Primakov, code-named "MAKS," to Iraq in the 1960s under the cover
of a journalist. Primakov was to later play a leading role in Kurdish affairs,
especially in the conclusion of the autonomy agreement between the Kurdistan
Democratic Party and the Iraqi regime in March 1970. The Ba'athists had to accept
the Soviet conditions in return for the mediation, since the Iraqi army was
completely exhausted from fighting with the Kurds. The Iraqi regime had to ease
pressure on the Iraqi Communist Party and establish close ties with the Soviet
After the March agreement, the Iraqi regime gained strength with Soviet support
and began to obstruct the implementation of the March agreement. And the Soviet
Union, having successfully used the Kurdish card to influence Iraqi foreign
policy, turned its back on the Kurds. Barzani in turn moved closer to the CIA,
and Savak. The Iraqi-Soviet
honeymoon lasted until the collapse of the Kurdish uprising after it was betrayed
by its Western allies and Iran in 1975. After this date, the Iraqi regime resumed
its oppressive policies toward the Iraqi Communist Party and began to draw closer
to the West. The Soviet Union resumed its use of the Kurdish card.
Since that time, history has repeated itself several times, and the Barzani
family has often changed allegiances among the KGB, the CIA, and the Mossad.
The drama continues.