The Kurds Part II

By | August 23, 2021

The second half of the 20th century

The Kurds in Iran and Iraq continued to wage a national struggle, sometimes by arms, sometimes by peaceful means. At the same time, relations between Iran and Iraq were inflamed. The regimes of the two countries tried to reach each other by supporting the Kurds of the other country. Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq received support from Iran in the 1960s and 1970s, and during the war between Iran and Iraq in 1980–1988, both countries sent weapons to the opposing Kurds.

In Turkey, a Kurdish student group had formed the Kurdistan Workers’ Party , PKK, in 1978  . Its goal was to establish a communist state in Kurdish areas of Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria. In 1984, the PKK launched a series of armed actions in southeastern Turkey. The civil war that followed lasted until 1999, when the Turks managed to arrest PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan.

Until 1988, Syria supported the Kurdish PKK guerrillas, but the intention was only to have a snag on Turkey. Syria has its own Kurdish minority, many of whom immigrated from Turkey during the 20th century. Some Kurds have emigrated from Syria to Lebanon. During the country’s disintegration since 2011, the Syrian Kurds have begun to organize as never before and in practice have established the beginning of their own state along the Turkish border.

Iraq and Turkey considered themselves to have a common interest in preventing the emergence of a Kurdish state in the border area. In 1986, the Turkish army received permission from Baghdad to pursue the PKK guerrillas into Iraqi territory. Conditions changed through the Kuwait War of 1990-1991 when the United States and Britain established a Kurdish “protection zone” in northern Iraq. A few years after the Kurds gained full control of the protection zone in 1992, however, the Western powers allowed the Turks to resume raids across the border in the hunt for the PKK.

After the turn of the millennium

Following the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, then-US President George W Bush took the initiative in an international “war on terror”. Among groups branded as terrorist movements was the PKK.

But the United States also clashed with Turkey when the United States entered Iraq in 2003 to overthrow Saddam Hussein’s regime. Turkish public opinion was opposed to helping the United States in the war. At the same time, the Turkish military wanted to take advantage of the situation to enter northern Iraq itself. There, they wanted to keep an eye on Kurdish aspirations for independence that worried Turkey.

From bases in the Kandil Mountains between Iraq and Iran, the PKK resumed its war against the Turkish state in 2004, albeit only on a small scale. Turkey considered itself to have received US promises of assistance in the fight against the PKK, in exchange for the Turkish military (largely) staying away from northern Iraq. But the Turks were forced to realize that the United States did not like to intervene in what was, after all, the calmest and most functioning part of Iraq. From the end of 2007, Turkey occasionally bombed PKK bases in northern Iraq on its own, while considerable progress was made in domestic policy to resolve the long-running conflict between the state and the Kurds. Above all, the Kurds were able to strengthen their cultural identity but also begin to put forward political demands in a completely different way than before the turn of the millennium. The positive development turned sharply in 2014–2015,

Disputed Kirkuk

In 2005, Iraq received a new constitution. At a Kurdish request, it stated, among other things, that a census would be conducted in the oil city of Kirkuk, whose inhabitants would then, no later than 2007, hold a referendum on the city’s future. The Iraqi Kurds believed that Kirkuk should be part of the Kurdish autonomous provinces in the north, but the Turkmens and other ethnic groups in Kirkuk objected. The city has always had a mixed population. Saddam Hussein once tried to “Arabize” Kirkuk by forcibly displacing Turkmens, Kurds and Assyrians from the city and encouraging the immigration of Arabs. After 2003, many Kurds have instead moved to Kirkuk – more than who lived there before, claim among others the Turkmens.

No census or referendum had yet been held in Kirkuk, but the Kurds still tried to resolve the issue on their own initiative in June 2014, when the Iraqi army left the city to escape the advancing Sunni terrorist movement Islamic Iraq and Syria (Isis). In the vacuum that arose after the army’s retreat, Kurdish soldiers, the peshmerga, could easily take over the city with surrounding oil fields. The disintegration of Iraq as a state formation had now gone so far that the Kurds began to speak openly about preparing a referendum on full independence. Only a few weeks later, however, Isis (which proclaimed a caliphate in the territories they controlled and changed its name to the Islamic State, IS) launched a new offensive against the Kurdish territories. The Iraqi Kurds were subjected to severe pressure and were helped by Kurds from both Syria and Turkey to defend themselves, as well as by the Iraqi air force and by the United States, which was once again given a fighting role in Iraq, a country located in Middle East according to When the Iraqi army went on the offensive against IS in the autumn of 2016 to retake the million-strong city of Mosul, it did so in coordination with the Kurdish forces.

In the summer of 2017, IS was driven out of Mosul by the joint Iraqi-Kurdish forces, and in the following months, the extremists lost almost the entire area they controlled in Iraq. In this new situation, the Kurdish regional government commissioned a referendum, which resulted in strong support for independence, including the controversial Kirkuk. In Baghdad and abroad, this was perceived as a strong provocation, and an Iraqi army force quickly retook all areas outside the Kurdish core country. The Baghdad government also sought to stifle the Kurdish economy. The dream of independence was transformed in a few days into a weakened autonomy.

Even in Syria, the Kurdish efforts to set up its own government have encountered patrols. The progress made during the civil war since 2011, when the Kurds began to set up their own school system, is threatened from two sides: from Turkey, whose defense forces have carried out several offensives into northern Syria, and by the Assad regime, which with Russian help has recaptured area after area within the country’s borders.

The Kurds 2