The Kurds in Iraq Part I

By | August 27, 2021

In Iraq, the Kurds live mainly in the northeast. The Iraqi Kurds have had Kurdish-language schools and other national rights that Kurds in neighboring countries lacked. At the same time, during the 20th century, they were subjected to more extensive and bloody persecutions than any other Kurdish group. Today, the Kurds have autonomy in northern Iraq, a country located in Middle East according to

Iraq became independent in 1932. Mustafa Barzani, from a leading family in the Barzani clan, emerged as a champion of the Kurds at about the same time. From 1946 he led the newly formed  KDP (Kurdistan Democratic Party), which in the 1960s waged guerrilla warfare against the regime in Baghdad. The KDP split in 1964.

A 1970 peace agreement gave Iraqi Kurds limited autonomy in three provinces, but many Kurds lived outside those provinces. The city of Kirkuk with a mixed Turkmen, Kurdish and Arab population was not covered by autonomy. A new Kurdish uprising, initially supported by Iran, was crushed in 1975.

Mustafa Barzani died in asylum in the United States in 1979. As leader of the KDP, he was succeeded by his son Massoud Barzani. After the defeat in 1975, the KDP breakers had formed a new party, the PUK  (Kurdistan’s Patriotic Union) under Jalal Talabani.

The Genocide Attack

Earlier, Baghdad’s rulers had tried to “decurd” and “Arabize” the oil-rich area around Kirkuk. In the 1970s, more than a million Turkmens, Kurds, and Assyrians were forcibly displaced. Iraqi and even Egyptian Arabs were offered benefits if they settled in and around Kirkuk. Kurdish place names were changed to Arabic. Hundreds of thousands of people were also expelled from the border areas with Turkey and Iran.

In 1980–1988, a bloody war was fought between Iraq and Iran. As the war drew to a close, Saddam Hussein’s regime launched an offensive called “Assault” (roughly “booty”) against Iraqi Kurds. Seizures were in practice a planned genocide . The poison gas attack on the 5,500 Kurds in the city of Halabja became known as images spread around the world. During Anfal, at least 50,000 people were killed, according to some sources, up to 182,000. Most were civilians. Many disappeared without a trace and half a million were forcibly relocated.

Kurdish protection zone

In the final stages of the Kuwait war in 1991, Iraqi Kurds and Shia Muslims obeyed the US call to rise up against Saddam Hussein, but the uprising failed. Between one million and two million Kurds temporarily fled to Turkey and Iran. To help the Kurds return, the United States and Britain, in agreement with the UN, created a protection zone in Iraq, north of the 36th parallel. Kirkuk was outside the zone, but inside was another of Iraq’s larger cities, Mosul, where many Kurds also lived. The zone was monitored by flights from bases in Turkey.

In 1992, the KDP and PUK declared autonomy in the zone. They also stated that the Kurdish question would be resolved within the framework of an Iraqi federation. (To openly talk about forming a Kurdish state would have been impossible, for the sake of Turkey and Iran.) Later that year, the Kurds in the zone held a parliamentary election. Outside the no-fly zone, Saddam Hussein continued with Arabization and ethnic cleansing among Kurds and other minorities, especially in oil-rich areas.

Inside the zone, there were conflicts between rival groups. In 1994, civil war broke out between the two parties that jointly ruled the zone: Massoud Barzani’s conservative nationalist KDP and Jalal Talabani’s more left – wing PUK. Barzani even used Saddam Hussein’s troops against the PUK.

The civil war lasted until 1998, when the KDP and PUK agreed to divide the Kurdish protection zone into separate parts. They each set up their headquarters: KDP in Erbil, PUK in Sulaymaniyya.

Iraq is invaded in 2003

Despite the unrest, life there was more tolerable than in the rest of Iraq. The world’s sanctions against Iraq made the zone a transit area, both for UN relief shipments and for profitable smuggling. As part of the UN’s oil-for-food program, Iraq was forced to allocate oil revenues to the three Kurdish provinces that had been given limited autonomy in 1970. The UN used the money to build housing, schools and more. A modest prosperity sprouted.

One point of concern was the presence of Kurdish PKK guerrillas from Turkey. Since the PKK had bases in the zone, Turkish troops also came in across the border. Turkey invoked an agreement with the Iraqi regime from 1986 which gave the Turks the right to persecute the PKK into Iraqi territory. The KDP chose to cooperate with Turkey to get rid of the PKK, while the PUK for a time provided bases for the PKK. Later, PUK also turned against the PKK.

Following the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, the United States began planning to overthrow Saddam Hussein. Unlike other Iraqi opposition, the Kurdish leaders had their own military forces – a total of over 50,000 soldiers, peshmerga. Encouraged by the United States, the KDP and the PUK began to approach each other.

The United States and Britain attacked Iraq in March 2003. Smaller units flew into Iraqi Kurdistan, where the peshmerga agreed to be under US command. Some Turkish troops already in northern Iraq remained, but their numbers declined.

The Kurds in Iraq 1