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Kurds in Iraq


Map of Iraq from the CIA World Factbook.

The Kurds originate from a region of Asia known as Kurdistan, meaning land of the Kurds, which includes Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran. The mountainous area is approximately the size of France. The Kurdish people, whose dominant religion is Sunni Islam, have faced forced assimilation and genocide throughout their history. In the late 1920s, the Kurds were victims of genocide in Turkey, and in the late 1980s, faced genocide in Iraq.

With a worldwide population of about 30 million, the Kurds are the fourth largest ethnic group in Western Asia and the most populous ethnic group without a state of their own. About 5.2 million Kurds currently reside in the autonomous Kurdish region of Iraq.

In 1961, a guerrilla war ensued between Iraqi Kurdish forces and the Baghdad government. During this conflict, Iraqi Kurds received support from Iran. In March 1975, however, the signing of an agreement between Iran and Iraq called the Algiers Accords led to Iran ceasing to provide the Kurds with supplies as a condition of receiving oil-rich Iraqi territory. The Kurdish forces were then overpowered, resulting in the destruction of Kurdish villages along Iranian and Turkish borders.

Despite Iraq’s efforts to prevent future Kurdish guerrilla activities, a new movement quickly arose. Iran recommenced their support of Kurdish forces during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War. In March of 1988, the joint Iranian and Kurdish force arrived at Halabja, a Kurdish city in Iraq, and succeeded in driving out the Iraqi troops stationed there. Iraq responded to the take-over by bombing the city with poisonous gas, resulting in the death of approximately 5,000 civilians. This retaliatory action and use of chemical warfare was a sign of more violent events to come.

From 1986 to 1989, a genocidal operation called the “Anfal Campaign” was put into action. During this period, eight separate military operations aimed at wiping out the entire Kurdish population was carried out, the bulk of which occurred from February to August of 1988. Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s cousin Ali-Hassan Al-Majid was the primary leader of this campaign. He soon came to be known as “Chemical Ali,” a nickname referencing his use of chemical warfare as a tool of genocide.

The Kurdish population was severely devastated by the violent acts that ensued during the Anfal Campaign. Between 100,000 to 200,000 Kurds were killed; their bodies buried in mass graves in Southern Iraq. Additionally, more than 4,000 of the 5,000 Kurdish villages in Iraq were destroyed by chemical bombardment. Thousands were displaced from their homes and forced into resettlement camps.

Following the end of the Persian Gulf War in 1991, international intervention provided the Kurdish area of Northern Iraq with a no-fly zone. The United States, United Kingdom, and France created this no-fly zone, which was upheld until the Second Persian Gulf War in 2003.International protection provided Iraqi Kurds with a period of autonomy, during which the Kurdistan Regional Government assumed power. Since the Anfal Campaign, more than 65 percent of the destroyed Kurdish villages have been rebuilt. However, international relations with Iraq and security issues have made it difficult to completely restore Kurdish cultural life.

The Iraqi High Tribunal was established to investigate the crimes of Saddam Hussein’s regime. In 2005-2006, Saddam Hussein was tried for the killing of Kurds in the village of Dujail in 1982. In August 2006, while the Dujail verdict was begin deliberated, a second trial began to investigate the genocide of the Kurds during the Anfal Campaign. Prior to the completion of the Anfal Trial, Hussein was executed on December 31, 2006 for the Dujail charges. Ali Hassan al-Majid was tried and convicted of charges genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes for his part in the Anfal Trail, and on January 25, 2010, he was executed.

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Asad Gozeh Kurdish Survivor  

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