A bit more than a year ago, ISIL [Daesh] came to Iraq. When they came to Mosul, there were only 300 Daesh fighters.
Mosul is a big city, with thousands of soldiers and police. Within hours they all left the city. Masoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdistan Regional Government, said it was a chance for the Kurds to enlarge the Kurdish state.
Areas like Kirkuk had been in dispute between the central Iraqi government and the regional Kurdish government. Barzani said he would show the Iraqi government a surprise they had never expected, and took over Kirkuk. So some people think that there was maybe a plot behind the rise of Daesh.
At that point Barzani and his party [the KDP] did not fight Daesh. They traded oil with Daesh. The PUK [the other main politico-military force in Iraqi Kurdistan, centred in Sulaimaniya] started fighting Daesh, because they saw it as a threat.
There was some help from Turkey for Daesh — for example, Daesh was able to trade oil through Turkey, and Turkey provided a pathway for Daesh people to pass through.
After about two months Daesh attacked Kurdish areas like Mount Sinjar. These were areas that Barzani’s party, the KDP, controlled. They didn’t allow the Yazidis [a distinct religious community concentrated round Mount Sinjar] to form a militia for themselves, and the KDP forces just left the area.
Later Daesh attacked two small towns near Erbil [Barzani’s capital]. Barzani called on the USA to help him, and Iran and the PUK tried to help Barzani’s forces in their defence.
When the USA and the Kurdish peshmerga and Iranian forces, in a sort of coalition, attacked Daesh, they took back some areas. But Mount Sinjar is still controlled by Daesh. Even near Tikrit [home city of Saddam Hussein, and not far from Baghdad] many places are still controlled by Daesh.
In Syria, Kurdish forces linked to the PKK [a Kurdish-nationalist party mainly based among Turkish Kurds] fought Daesh and succeeded, for example at Kobane. That was inspirational for people in the region and in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Now the peshmerga mostly aren’t fighting Daesh. They stay on their side of the line dividing Daesh-controlled territory and Kurdish-controlled.
I don’t believe the USA created Daesh, but the USA paved the way for Daesh to emerge as a force.
In Syria the USA supported Islamist groups against Assad. We’ve had war in Syria for about four years now. On one side the Assad regime is supported by Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah. On the other, training camps for Islamist forces are supported by Jordan and Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
Turkey has attacked Daesh, but only occasionally and not very much, and the PKK. I don’t support the PKK, but you can’t say they are just terrorists like Daesh.
The Turkish government has used its action against the PKK as an excuse to attack the opposition inside Turkey. The Turkish government has arrested about a thousand people, mostly socialists and leftists.
Before the rise of Daesh there was some economic progress in Iraqi Kurdistan, some rebuilding, some new construction. Foreign companies came to Iraqi Kurdistan and invested. There was a sort of stability. Jobs were available.
Now things are different because of the Daesh war and because of conflict between PUK and KDP. The KDP has allied with Turkey, and many Turkish companies are working in the part of Iraqi Kurdistan controlled by the KDP. The PUK has stayed on the side of Iran. Conflicts between Iran and Turkey have affected things inside Iraqi Kurdistan.
There are two Islamist groups — the Islamic Union [linked to the Muslim Brotherhood] and the Islamic Group — represented in the Kurdistan parliament and active in both the PUK and the KDP areas.
They have backed the PUK in a conflict over the Kurdistan presidency with KDP.
Generally they support the AKP [the ruling party] in Turkey. Inside the PUK, since Jalal Talabani has been sick [Talabani, historic leader of the PUK, suffered a stroke in 2012 and has been sick since then], there are many factions and groups.
Masoud Barzani’s term as president is supposed to have expired, but the KDP has been able to stop parliament taking any decisions on the presidency, so he continues in office, but not recognised by the PUK.
Many foreign companies in Kurdistan have stopped working. About 750,000 are out the work. Road-building projects have been stopped. Many companies have been bankrupted.
Public sector workers have been getting their wages late. Pensions are very low, and there are no welfare benefits.
There are protests, but they are often repressed. There is a bit more room for protest in the PUK region than in the KDP area. Many people are now leaving the country because they have no hope.
Our party has open activities, meetings, a radio station, and sometimes gets a hearing in the mass media, but it’s not easy. Both the KDP and the PUK have militias.