ERBIL, Kurdistan Region - The radical Kurdish cleric Mulla Krekar says he would support Kurdish independence "wholeheartedly" although he has lost faith in Kurdish parties in the Kurdistan Region.
Krekar, who has been convicted in Norway for links to acts of terror, told Rudaw in an interview that he would want to return to the Kurdistan Region, but in a lawful manner.
The radical cleric is wanted in Kurdistan and Iraq for leading an outlawed terror group in the 1990s known as Ansar al-Islam, which is accused of mass killings in several Kurdish villages in 2001.
In the interview, Krekar categorically denied any link to the infamous Kheli Hama massacre, where entire families were beheaded by Ansar militants.
Rudaw conducted this interview by phone with Krekar, who now lives in Norway with his family.
Rudaw: At which stage are your court trials?
Mulla Krekar: I am currently expecting a verdict from the court of appeals in Norway, since the court had decided to extradite me to Italy. They have had no response for the past six months. I don't think they have any evidence against me. Norway is a country of law. Even the politicians are powerless without lawful backing.
Why do they want to extradite you to Italy?
The whole issue is that a Kurdish young man has helped a Kosovan young man to travel to Syria. The Italian intelligence has apparently monitored the two and recorded his trip and their conversations. After the investigations it was established that the young Kurdish man had taken a photo with me earlier. A Norwegian minister travelled to Italy and created this case against me and alleged that a terror group has been set up in Italy. It's all a media circus. There were amazing accusations about me allegedly establishing the group in Italy from my prison cell in Norway through Skype.
Why don’t you return to Kurdistan?
I arrived here as a refugee through the UN, and I should leave lawfully. With all the false accusations against me it is not easy to return. I came here lawfully and will leave according to the law.
Have you spoken with Kurdish officials about returning?
I have no quarrel with any political party. Many of my relatives and friends are members of Kurdish parties, the KDP, the PUK and the Gorran. People have tried on my behalf, even some Iranian Kurds have tried, but so far no news.
Where is the safest place for you if you decide to return, Erbil or Sulaimani?
If I return I will settle in Sulaimani. I was there before and my influence is largest there. If I have no other commitments, I would like to become a university professor or establish a political institute. If I have no political commitments, I would like to live in Sulaimani.
What are your legal issues with the Kurdish parties?
I have no issues with the KDP (Kurdistan Democratic Party) or any other party. Three senior KDP officials, including Hoshyar Zebari, have announced that I have no issues with them. The KDP has no charges against me. With regard to the PUK (Patriotic Union of Kurdistan) and the Kheli Hama case, I am confident and ready to be tried. The intelligence (services) of 10 countries have investigated the case and brought several documents and photos, but gained nothing. Anyone who has anything against me should come forward. I am ready to come to Sulaimani, and if the PUK has any true charges I am ready to face trial. But I want to face a court of law and human beings, not jungle court.
Did you have preconditions, such as the judge who would preside over your trial?
No, it was not this way at all. In a country where there is the rule of law the accused cannot influence the judge. I said let Judge Rizgar try me, who is a respected judge and who tried Saddam (Hussein) earlier. He listens to the accused and accuser with respect. I was asked about the Kheli Hama incident even in Norway. I need to say, these are all lies and propaganda against me, because they cannot face the intellectual debate. Those who have political issues with me are afraid of my past and morality. This is why they slander me.
You established the Mountain Front some time ago. What is it?
The Mountain Front is a disciplinary political and intellectual school. I want to help those who consider themselves as my followers to establish a society to decide what to do with this school of thought, even after my death. They are free to even establish a political party out of it. Like Marx and Said Qutib, after my death, more people will gather around my thought and then they can start a movement and try to change society.
This means that it is not a political movement?
No, we do not have politburo and member of central committees. No one is a ranking member in the Mountain Front. As I said, it is a base for an intellectual school. In this front no one is Emir and no one is follower. I want people to focus on intellectual topics. For instance, if 500 people join the front, some 50 of them will discuss the topics as the founders of the front. These people will then decide if the front will become a political party or just a pressure group, if we then decide to hold a congress in Erbil or Turkey: something like the Sadr Front and the Saudi Clerics or the Sistani group. But it will not become a party organization in the country.
Have any changes occurred with regard to your own beliefs? Do you still believe in jihad in Kurdistan?
We believe in Islam. And Islam is conviction and Sharia. Jihad is part of it. We think Kurdistan is the bastion of kufr (infidelity). We think most of the laws in Kurdistan promote kufr. They should be altered. We won't clash with these people. We will face them in the intellectual front and provide our proofs. Kurdistan is the base for kufr, but it does not mean that the people are kafir (infidels). They are Muslims.
Don't you think that when you describe Kurdistan as a bastion of kufr it will encourage inexperienced Kurdish youngsters towards radicalism?
No, the Prophet was in Mecca and still he made his announcements and daawa (invitations). Mecca was dar-ul-kufr (bastion of infidels) then. This is the clash of thoughts. He did not encourage anyone to kill. If we can, we will implement Islam, if not, we will migrate.
And if you gain power?
It is premature. Of course if we gain power we will implement Islam. We will throw away the secularism that has demolished all Kurdish values. We believe in humanity. I know that my freedom stops where yours begin. We say intellectual clash. But if we are worked against, indeed we will not just stand and watch. We won't allow them to come and kill us one by one; we will then break some bones.
Recently an armed group clashed with the Kurdish anti-terror units in Sangaw, Kurdistan Region. They were reportedly former Ansar al-Islam members and had been to Europe. Do you have any knowledge about them?
This Sangaw incident was a joke created by a PUK official. It was a rivalry among the PUK members and they wanted to fabricate something else. How would anyone send a group of four armed men with guns to these regions? People wouldn't go hunting this way either, you know.
How do you describe the Islamic State (ISIS)?
In short it is a jihadi group as any other and operates in Iraq and Syria. They have their own Emir. They have no monopoly on Islam, and calling them Islamic Caliphate will not make them the Caliph and Caliphate. They are a jihadi and Islamic society. Now everyone is talking about Mosul and what is to grab from it after the offensive. I take it as a joke, really. NATO, with all its might, was unable to annihilate the miserable Taliban, which compared to the Arabs are a far weaker force. The Mosul battle is impossible. If not, be my guest and engage. Unless they level Mosul to the ground -- and even then -- street and alley clashes will resume and continue.
What do you say about the ISIS?
I have my thoughts about their point of view and perspective. They kill indiscriminately and shed blood. It is not fine.
How do you view the tragedy that was perpetrated against the Yezidis?
I know nothing about that. I have only one side's story. It reminds me of another story about Imam Hussein and Saida Zainab, who were chained and brought to Levent. I do not know the details and cannot say anything according to the Sharia. But if I had a jihadi force, I wouldn't do what ISIS did against them. We had great influence in Halabja but did not do anything like that against similar peoples in the area.
What is your view about the unification efforts by the Kurdish Islamic parties?
I don't think they should become a unified party, since the Kurdistan Islamic Society (KIS) is an Iranian wing and their tool. The Kurdistan Islamic Union (KIU) is part of the Brotherhood movement and has its own distinct ideologies. And the Kurdistan Islamic Movement (KIM) has a different approach. It is possible for them to enter elections on a single ballot and agree on worldly matters and parliament seats. This is the case in many countries like Jordan and Indonesia, where they have Islamic fronts. But to become a unified single party, I don't think it's possible. These three parties do not have many common interests to unify for. The KIU sees into the distant future. The KIS, on the other hand, is moved by Iran completely. Apart from that, there are psychological barriers between the KIS and KIM, with no easy solutions at all.
Don't you think your remarks about KIS are strong?
I am more certain about KIS being an Iranian wing than my own name. My friend, me and KIS leader Ali Bapir have known each other for 34 years. I know which Iranian official has been meeting him.
You endorsed the Change Movement (Gorran) for the 2009 elections. Do you have the same view now?
Gorran had a project then. But I see a bleak Gorran now. I don't know whether it is because of the domestic hindrances or foreign pressures or simply because it is declining. I have no idea what happened to it. Let's wait and see. If Gorran has joined the PUK, then it is their last Kurdish political move.
Will you support them for next elections?
If things go as they do, I do not think so.
What do you think will happen to Kurdistan?
It will deteriorate. They did not treat each other as members of the same nation. Twenty five years is a long period. No system exists in Kurdistan and no one knows what's happening, really.
How do you view the relations between the Kurdistan Region and Iraq.
I hope we separate from Iraq as soon as possible. I would support it wholeheartedly. We were annexed to the Iraqi state under force in 1921, a state that is a failed state in every sense. The first time Iraq purchased aircraft, they bombed Kurdistan and Sulaimani. If a tiny part of Kurdistan is separated from Iraq and declares independence, I will endorse it fully. When Mauritania declared independence, they didn't even have a building to wave their flag upon, and still they declared independence.
Do you support the referendum?
They have missed the opportunity. People don't have faith in these parties. The PUK has a Qaddafi-like agenda for the country. And the KDP tries to establish a monarchy system and become like the plague, just like the Saudi monarchs. The state has nothing to do with us. Why was it easy for East Timor to become a state? They were only a million people. Hamid Awate was a national leader in Eritrea. He and Mustafa Barzani started their revolutions in the 1960s. But Eritrea became a state in 1994, while we had a civil war in Kurdistan in 1994. Iran was at both ends of the war and demolished the country.
How come your opinions are so strong about Iran? Even Turkey interferes in domestic affairs of Kurdistan?
The Iranians are not like the Turks. Turkey and the KDP have relations, but the Turkish intelligence has not taken over the KDP. But Iran has virtually colonized the PUK territories in Sulaimani. Tehran has pushed the leaders in that area to convert to Shiites. Iran has a billion dollar profit from that area. Iran is fighting us to the bitter end. It tries to weaken the Kurdish agriculture and economy.
What do you think about the cantons in Syrian Kurdistan, Rojava?
I predict that Syria will split. They will establish a state for the Shiites in Tartus. Iran is heavily engaged there now, buying lands. It is also negotiating with the Jihadi groups to move the Shiite population from other areas to Tartus so that they can establish an Alawite state for the Shiites near Lebanese borders. The Kurds on the other hand, I don't think will have a state. Their fate is unknown. Since the rivalling parties in Syria have larger interests with Turkey, and Turkey is against any Kurdish polity which could impact its own Kurdistan.