Kurds' peace and unity takes Saddam by surprise

Rout of PUK: 'They were defeated in their hearts, in their souls'

"I was surprised. Everybody was surprised," says Massoud Barzani, the Kurdish leader, when asked about the speed of his victory over the rival Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. Quite suddenly the Kurdish civil war is over and Iraqi Kurdistan is united under one Kurdish party for the first time in history.

It is not an outcome anybody expected, least of all Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi leader, who probably calculated that by sending his tanks into Arbil, the Kurdish capital, two weeks ago, he would save Mr Barzani from defeat and keep the civil war going. This would have enabled him to be the ultimate power broker in Kurdistan, gradually increasing his influence by playing the two Kurdish parties against each other.

The most important change in the political map of Iraq and Kurdistan since the start of the month is that, to the surprise of all, this did not happen. There is now only one Kurdish leader and party left. Driving through Kurdish village there is scarcely a tumble-down hut which has not sprouted the yellow flag of the victorious Kurdistan Democratic Party KDP. Equally telling, the price of a Kalashnikov machine gun in the market has more than halved to between 300 and 400 Iraqi dinars (pounds 8 to pounds 10) since the beginning of the month as thousands of PUK militiamen try to get rid of their weapons.

Even after the fall of Arbil on on 31 August, there was no reason why Jalalnal Talabani's PUK forces, still holding the city of Sulaimaniyah and many other towns and villages, should not have fought on. "They held positions from which they could have held us off by throwing rocks," said one KDF member. Overall, Mr Barzani, told The Independent in an interview, his forces lost 150 dead and 500 wounded in the war.

The main reason for the rout was that the PUK, desperate for the West to help it with air power after the loss of Arbil, announced on its radio and television that the Iraqi army was pouring into Kurdistan. Such is the terror of Saddam Hussein's name among Kurds, that, as in 1991, they broke and fled. Mukhtar, a KDP a pesh merga (soldier), who fought at Degala, where the PUK failed to blow up a strategic bridge on the road from Arbil to Sulaimaniyah, said: "They were defeated in their hearts, in their souls. They were throwing away their weapons."

Not everybody is quite convinced that this will last. A foreign observer in Arbil, who has been in the country for the whole of the civil war, said: "Is it likely that the PUK and Talabani, who have succeeded in fighting for many years, will give us just like that?" But most Kurds, soldiers and civilians alike, believe that a come-back by the defeated party will be very difficult. War-weariness is great. Of the chances of renewed warfare with the PUK, Mr Barzani says: "If anything happens it will be because the Iranians are equipping them."

The pesh merga close to the Iranian border agree. At Khasre, a pretty village between mountains, a local KDP leader called Zrar said his forces lost 23 dead failing to hold back the PUK supported by Iranian artillery fire last month. Their position became even more dire when one of their officers, changed sides with 100 men.

Shaking his head in wonderment, Zrar said: "After the fall of Arbil we were able to take our positions driving our cars. Day after day, PUK members are giving up their weapons and surrendering. I don't believe they will be able to send a group over here for a year."

In the vast Kurdish mountains small groups of guerrillas can survive and fight, but to do so requires high morale and resolution. The word pesh marga means literally "those who face death", but the last month has shown that many recruits, paid 1,000 dinars (pounds 22) a month, often six months in arrears, have no intention of getting killed for a warlord on the losing side.

This is not to say that all 3.5 million Kurds, including KDP members, are not deeply shaken by Mr Barzani's alliance, however brief and tactical, with Saddam. But so long as Iraqi troops do not enter Kurdistan and Mr Barzani can provide peace and better living conditions, the majority of Kurds are likely to support him.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Cleaner

£15000 - £16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you've got first class custo...

Recruitment Genius: Mobile Applications Developer / Architect - iOS and Android

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a medium s...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Account Executive - £40K OTE

£11830 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working in a friendly, sales ta...

Recruitment Genius: Web Designer

£15000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life