France hails Kurdish friendship on fifth anniversary of Paris terrorist attacks

On Friday, as France marked the fifth anniversary of the terrorist attacks that killed 130 people in Paris, it hailed the friendship of the Kurds.
author_image Laurie Mylroie

WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) – On Friday, as France marked the fifth anniversary of the terrorist attacks that killed 130 people in Paris, it hailed the friendship of the Kurds.

“Today, we remember the attacks of November 13, 2015 in Paris and we do not forget the solidarity of our Kurdish friends,” the French Consulate General in Erbil tweeted, on Friday, along with a picture of the Erbil citadel lit up in the French tricolors five years ago.

The coordinated assaults, carried out by three groups of terrorists, were the most deadly attack on French soil since World War II.

They were also the most lethal attack in Europe since the March 11, 2004, terrorist attack on Madrid. The ten bombs on four commuter trains killed 193 people and were the deadliest assault in Spain since World War II. 

Evolution of Military Partnership with Kurdish Forces 

The attacks in Spain were claimed by al Qaida in Iraq, whose putative leader was a Jordanian, who used the nom de guerre, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (he came from Zarqa, Jordan’s industrial center.)

Zarqawi was in Afghanistan, when the US-led offensive there began after the 9/11 attacks. Zarqawi fled with several hundred other Arabs to Iraqi Kurdistan, where he joined forces with Ansar al-Islam—whose first leader, a Kurdish extremist, Mullah Krekar, is now serving prison time in Italy.

One of the first steps taken by the George W. Bush administration in preparation for the 2003 war in Iraq was to send CIA paramilitary teams to Kurdistan to work with the Peshmerga forces to eliminate Ansar al-Islam and remove the threat of an attack from the rear.

That story is detailed in two books: Operation Hotel California: the Clandestine War Inside Iraq, and The CIA War in Kurdistan: The Untold Story of the Northern Front in the Iraq War.  

Both describe what has become an enduring partnership between the US-led Coalition and the Kurdish forces that has now lasted for over 18 years—from the summer of 2002 (well before the Bush administration publicly said that it would overthrow Saddam Hussein) to the present day.

Even before the CIA teams arrived in Erbil, however, Zarqawi had left for Baghdad, purportedly for medical treatment. After the fall of Baghdad, he would emerge, as the face of a new terrorist group, al Qaida in Iraq (AQI.) He was killed in a 2006 US airstrike, and the subsequent “surge” in US troops seemed to defeat the insurgency in Iraq.

In 2014, however, after the withdrawal of US forces, AQI reemerged in a new form: ISIS. As the highly-regarded German news magazine Der Spiegel explained in a long article, a leak from German intelligence, the core of ISIS was the former Iraqi regime. It first established itself in the chaos of Syria’s civil war, before exploding across the border to occupy one-third of Iraq.

A new US-led Coalition followed, and, once again, Kurdish forces became key partners in the fight against yet another terrorist organization.

So what explains the extreme lethality of the Paris and Madrid terrorist attacks? Why were they the deadliest assaults in each country in 70 years? Not the passion and extremism of those who carried them out. That makes them “useful idiots,” to borrow Lenin’s phrase.

Rather, it was the skill and experience of those who planned and organized the assaults which was key to their lethality: members of the former Iraqi regime. 

Long History of French Ties with the Kurds 

French support for the Kurds goes back to the 1980s, when Danielle Mitterrand, wife of the French President, Francois Mitterrand, took a strong interest in their plight. She played a key role in prodding the US to initiate Operation Provide Comfort after the 1991 Gulf War and establish the no-fly zone. Ever since, including under the current French President, Francois Macron, French leaders have been sympathetic to and supportive of the Kurds.

Late last month, the Kurdish political parties demonstrated their support for France, after remarks by Macron about the need for Muslim immigrants to better integrate into French society provoked protests in some countries.

The leadership of those parties visited the French Consulate in Erbil on October 28 and met with Olivier Decottignies, the French Counsel General, as the Deputy Speaker of the Kurdish parliament, Hemin Hawrami, explained.

“Reiterated our appreciation for France support to Kurdistan. Multi religious, tolerance & coexistence must be respected,” Hawrami tweeted.

Thus, it seems quite fitting, that as France marks the fifth anniversary of the Paris terrorist attacks, Decottignies should express his country’s appreciation of Kurdish solidarity in a common fight.

Editing by John J. Catherine