On Aug. 31, 1996, when KDP leader Massoud Barzani invited the Iraqi army to help him regain control of Erbil from the rival PUK, the Americans reassured then-PUK leader Jalal Talabani that they would not allow Saddam’s forces to re-enter the town. On the eve of the attack, Talabani asked his son Qubad, the current deputy prime minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government, to call the top US official responsible for enforcing the no-fly zone. The official reassured the young Talabani that Saddam could not send his army into Erbil, according to Jalal Talabani’s memoir published earlier this year. The following day, Saddam did — with the help of the Barzanis. The small number of Americans stationed there fled.
Two months later, it fell on the shoulders of people like Eqbalpour and Soleimani to help the PUK regain its territory from the Barzanis. These kinds of actions, and the long-term investment of the IRGC in Iraqi opposition groups, are the true source of Iran’s influence in Iraq. The Kurds and the Iraqi Shiites see Iran is a reliable partner who can deliver on its promises. Before the Sept. 25 independence referendum, Eqbalpour and Soleimani promised the Kurds to help them obtain their rights under the Iraqi Constitution if they backed away from the plebiscite.