By William Carter

Photographer, Author, Jazz Musician

“All That is Ours!”

with 11 comments


IRAQ, 1965: Mullah Mustafa Barzani, historic leader of Kurdish pesh merga resistance fighters, gestures toward the oil-rich city of Kirkuk. Forty-nine years later, has the Kurds’ historic longing for full independence finally become a reality?

By William Carter

In a top-secret mountain setting — he moved continuously because the Baghdad government had placed a huge bounty on his head — Mullah Mustafa Barzani had granted me an extraordinary interview because I was on assignment from the then-influential magazine, LIFE.  Speaking Kurdish through a translator, he recited highlights of his proud people’s long history of partition and betrayal, and obliquely thanked the US for the diplomatic and tangible support the Americans were already supplying covertly via their then-ally, Iran.  I myself had been smuggled in from the Shah’s kingdom, dressed as a Kurdish nomad and crossing the river frontier on a donkey after midnight.

After the interview and photographs I resumed my weeks-long journey by foot on donkey westward through the spectacular mountain landscape, dotted with spring wildflowers and hospitable tiny villages.  My guide was one of Barzani’s commanders, Colonel Akrawi, who spoke excellent English and who, when he was not conducting raids on Iraqi police stations, was collecting plant specimens for a book he was writing on Kurdish botany.  After a miserable night in a canyon village being shelled by the Iraqis, we arrived, one late afternoon, at a spectacular clearing and lookout point.

Below us, to the west, strings of lights outlining the Kirkuk oil fields were beginning to wink on; beyond lay the relatively large city of Kirkuk itself.

With a wide, proud sweep of his arm, the personable Colonel Akrawi said softly but very firmly, “All that is ours.”

This spring of 2014 my wife and I were invited to travel to the modern city of Erbil, Kurdistan as honored guests to meet Massoud Barzani, Mullah Mustafa’s son, who, with other Kurds, had, after the fall of Saddam Hussein, occupied high posts in the Baghdad regime. (I believe I photographed him as a child 49 years ago.) At 80, We declined the offer, partly because of kidnapping worries. Just as well we weren’t there last week when the ISIS Islamic fundamentalists came marauding through northwestern Iraq — although I would have had my camera ready!

Now may be a pivotal moment for the Kurds.  With their extraordinary bravery, organization, newly won oil income and fierce in-group identity vis-a-vis Arab domination, they may emerge as the only winners amid the long-drawn-out failure of the artificially conceived, ethnically impossible, divide-and-rule “state” concocted by colonialists drawing ruler lines across maps in London and Paris a century ago.

The new threat — and old spirit — were summed up by the head of Kirkuk’s regional police force: as reported by Joe Parkinson in The Wall Street Journal on June 20, 2014: “I’m from Kirkuk and I’m ready to die to protect it.”

Kodachrome photographs June, 1965 © William Carter


Mullah Mustafa Barzani, 1965



Peshmergas in the cliffs above Kirkuk



Same guys with a little sponsorship from (then) U.S. friends in Iran



Modern weaponry in support of tribal traditions — what else is new?



Norther Iraq is not a desert, and the Kurds are not Arabs



Peshmergas at dusk: is the moon finally
rising over Kurdish independence?



Colonel Akrawi had been trained at Sandhurst, England. He was my guide and companion for 3 weeks. Years later I heard he had been wounded and eventually died in Switzerland. But what ever happened to the book Akrawi was writing on Kurdish botany, as our platoon
hiked through scenes like that below?



Copyright statement: William Carter papers, © Stanford University Libraries. Click here for a detailed usage guide.


Written by bywilliamcarter

June 23, 2014 at 4:54 pm

11 Responses

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  1. On Twitter, I received the following comment from “Mr. Barzani” @BazzHawleri:

    @ByWilliamCarter Probably also worth mentioning Peshmerga were cruelly betrayed by both those renegades.

    My response: Yes, the Kurds were indeed betrayed by Kissinger, Turkey and countless others certain of their ability to fix the world in the shadow of the Cold War and later. Secretary of State Condeleza Rice’s sober-faced promise in Cairo, at the feet of the pharaohs, that America was just about to democratize the entire Middle East, was one of America’s more brilliant performances. In my six years of elementary school, one of the best rules we learned was written on the bulletin board: “Hands off other people.”

    Reply: @ByWilliamCarter Your comment was wonderfully articulated. I commend you and your just portrayal of our cause. Biji Kak William Carter.



    July 2, 2014 at 7:40 pm

  2. Wonderful article supported by even greater photos!



    June 25, 2014 at 7:02 pm

  3. Thank you, Bill. Fascinating. Love to you and Ulla. Sandhya



    June 24, 2014 at 9:30 pm

  4. Bill-what a wonderfully informative piece on Barzani and our photographs are just marvelous.I had followed Barzani and his Kurd army, after I learned about him in Charlie Wilson’s War.he remains a legend.

    Thanks so much..what were you shooting with back then?

    George Melnikoff


    George Melnikoff

    June 24, 2014 at 6:59 pm

  5. William:
    Excellent photographs and story, very similar to Steve McCurry in Afghanistan, many years later.
    Peter Wm. Richardson


    Peter Wm. Richardson

    June 24, 2014 at 2:22 am

  6. Freedom for kurdistan.


    Hazhar mohamadali

    June 23, 2014 at 11:55 pm

  7. Bill    Many thanks for those quite wonderful photos.    You should have gone to Irbil. Quite safe if very expensive because of oil boom.     Hugs to you and Ulla     Jon Randal



    June 23, 2014 at 9:28 pm

  8. As a young Kurd all we have heard about Mulla Mustafa is that he was a legend and all of the luxury we have today in Kurdistan is because of him and his Peshmarga’s sacrifices. It is really nice to hear of someone who is ‘neutral’ to talk about our cause, and the nicer thing is to talk about 49 years ago! Regarding President Barzani’s offer to you to visit Erbil, I could really say that you have missed a wonderful trip to the free Kurdistan. Kurdistan today is not like you have visited 49 years ago, that’s for sure. It is very secure, we have not seen any violence since 20 years or so. In Kurdistan today people are not violent at all on the contrary we try to become as modern as possible. And at last Kirkuk is back to us and will stay forever and become the Capital of Free state of Kurdistan. Thank you for these amazing photos, they are really outstanding!


    Rawand AL Kadi

    June 23, 2014 at 7:40 pm

  9. Hi Bill, What a great Blog Post. You sure were in the thick of it back when…(now), and have such a unique “American” perspective, now, as a result. For me, its really amazing to read. And fun. It is also amazing to me at how so few of “us humans” want to rule or own too much…in stead of being peace-loving custodians of this little world for these miniscule portions of time-awareness. Yet the heart of people continues to amaze. (on a more positive note..) Hope to see you sometime soon. Love to Ulla. Love, Jeff Date: Mon, 23 Jun 2014 16:54:34 +0000 To:


    Jeff Hamilton

    June 23, 2014 at 7:28 pm

  10. What fascinating adventures you have experienced!!

    Betsy Nilson



    June 23, 2014 at 6:01 pm

  11. Great story….and photos.

    (Guess there’s no advantage to smuggling in clarinets?)



    June 23, 2014 at 5:03 pm

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