The release of the nine-minute film "Tavakol" and the animated short "Saving Holir" by Fars News Agency last week has been met with outrage in Kurdistan. The films’ portrayal of Ghasem Soleimani as a savior of Iraqi Kurdistan and the principal deflector of ISIS’s incursions into the territory is, critics say, completely inaccurate.
Even though the films have since been taken off Fars’s website they remain on other media outlets controlled by the Islamic Republic, and continue to cause uproar. Nechirvan Barzani, the second President of the Kurdistan Region in Iraq, has accused Fars of "distorting reality, humiliating and hiding the role of Peshmerga forces and senior regional officials", further calling the videos an insult to the Kurdish people's collective consciousness.
On Friday, the Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs of the Kurdistan Region also issued a statement asking the imams of local mosques to dedicate the subject of their January 29 Friday sermons to what it called "another humiliation in Islam."
Tavakol is the fourth part of a collection of sub-narratives made by the Masir Cultural and Artistic Institute, by order of the Islamic Propaganda Organization, while the animated Saving Holir was created by the Kermanshah Basij Digital Arts Center. The former narrates the events of August 7 to 10, 2014, after ISIS took over the Makhmour area, and posits that a subsequent “siege of Erbil” was broken by was Ghasem Soleimani and 50 guards, after which any fears about the fall of the city dissipated.
Sirvan Barzani, a senior military official of the Kurdistan Region, who at that time was the field commander in Makhmour, has a different story. He dismisses the way the attack on Erbil and the flight of people from the city were depicted in this film, saying: "Ghasem Soleimani arrived in Erbil on August 7 with 50 guards and met with Massoud Barzani. After this meeting, a number of Iranian anti-tank and anti-RPG weapons were sent to some of the battlefields. But there was no news of a siege or the fall of Erbil. Even by the time Ghasem Soleimani arrived in Erbil, ISIS attacks were being already being repelled by the peshmerga."
Barzani also refutes the role of Ghasem Soleimani and the Revolutionary Guards in liberating Makhmour. "Apart from the peshmerga of the Kurdistan Region,” he says, “no force entered the city to liberate Makhmour. US-led coalition forces began their air support for the peshmerga and their attack on ISIS on August 10."
According to Barzani, after the peshmerga liberated this area, some 12 IRGC military advisers had entered Makhmur and remained there for about 20 days. "But apart from the presence of six of them in an operation in the Mahmoudia area, south of Makhmur, they did not take part in any military manoeuvres."
Ali Awni, a member of the political bureau of the Iraqi Kurdistan Democratic Party, also strongly denied that Erbil had been “evacuated” as it appeared to be in the film. In an interview with IranWire, he too said that Erbil was never besieged by ISIS: "I and my family used to live in Erbil. I don’t remember anyone leaving the city. The fighting was intense in the city of Makhmour, which is at least 70 kilometers away from Erbil.
"As a peshmerga, I was at the forefront of the battle and witnessed the close cooperation of the US-led coalition forces with the peshmerga; There was no sign of the Revolutionary Guards. And in fact, in the midst of the war with ISIS, many peshmergas protested the worn-out quality of the bullets sent by Iran. One of the victims of out-of-date Iranian ammunition was my cousin, Jafar Maho, who was killed with one of these worn-out bullets in his hands."
He also referred to the film's "humorous" narrative: "If, according to the film, the defeat of ISIS by Ghasem Soleimani was so easy, then why did Ghasem Soleimani fail despite having 150,000 Shiite mercenaries from Iran, Pakistan, Lebanon and Afghanistan, along with 500,000 armed forces consisting of Syrian Alawites, as well as 100,000 Russian soldiers and the military and security apparatus of the three countries?"
Meanwhile Ari Hersin, a former member of the Central Committee of the Iraqi Kurdistan Democratic Party and former head of the Peshmerga Assembly, who was on the front lines during the war against ISIS in the Nawaran area of Mosul, said the film’s claim that Erbil citizens had fled the city was a "pure lie." This official, who generally has good relations with Iranian diplomats, told IranWire: "The narrative of the film is completely distorted and is in clear contradiction with reality. Because at that time, apart from being in the Navaran area and the front line, my family lived in Erbil without any worries."
He further points out the more effective role of the US-led coalition forces in the fight against ISIS; although naturally, no war is conducted solely in the sky. “Victory in war is about ground forces and resistance on the ground,” he says. “The peshmerga of Kurdistan is the group that secured this victory.”
Ali Awni says he attributes the release of films such as Tavakol to "the Islamic Republic's fear of global repercussions of the Kurdish issue". He believes that the purpose of the Islamic Republic of Iran in broadcasting such films, apart from trying to diminish the achievements of the Kurds, is "to instil a sense of inferiority in the Kurdish youth so that they do not dream of independence and that no country except Iran, not even the United States, will help them." The film’s production and distribution, he says, is the result of a crisis of confidence inside the Islamic Republic.
One part of the film also suggests that elements of the Kurdistan region are accused of collaborating with ISIS. Awni says this myth was propagated by Iran and the so-called “Axis of Resistance”, including the Fatemiyoun Brigades and Syrian Ba’athist forces. “Apart from these groups,” he says, “no civilized country believes so. Because they know that the Kurdish region, in parallel with the bloody war with ISIS, was a stronghold for the defense of universal values such as human rights, freedom, democracy and human dignity. The Kurds have defended these values with their blood.
"I don’t think any government should be allowed to exalt itself by humiliating other nations. Would they like others to produce and broadcast such films about the Iranian Supreme Leader or the performance of the seminary?"
Finally, Ali Awni points out that the regimes in Syria, Turkey, Iraq and Iran all share a predominant practice of making enemies of their ethnic and religious minorities so as to strengthen the ideological foundations of their governments. "I think the Islamic Republic has not found no other people than the Kurds to be angry with,” he says. “The logical consequence of this practice is the constant policy of ‘unification’ via the humiliation and repression of Baluchis, Azeris, Gilakis, Arabs and Kurds in the dominant Persian culture and the national media of Iran. One day the Lors are ridiculed; the next day Kurdish clothes are considered shepherd's clothes. Except for the Persians, everyone is humiliated and ridiculed."