Barzani, Mulla Mustafa


Barzani, Mulla Mustafa
(1903-1979)
   Mulla Mustafa Bar-zani was the most famous Kurdish leader of the 20th century. His name became virtually synonymous with the Kurdish nationalist movement in Iraq, while his fame made him a legendary hero for Kurds everywhere. He was a natural leader, inspired emotional loyalty, and was physically strong and brave. Because of the stunted development of Kurdish nationalism, however, in some ways Barzani never exceeded the bounds of tribal chieftain. Some of his Kurdish opponents called him feudal and reactionary. Nevertheless, his career helped mightily to foster a nascent Kurdish national consciousness, which continues to grow in the 21st century.
   Mulla Mustafa and his mother were imprisoned by the Ottomans when he was an infant, and his elder brother Sheikh Abdul Salam II was executed by the Ottomans for disloyalty in World War I. Barzani eventually had three wives, 10 sons, and several daughters. Hamayl, his third wife, was a member of the Barzani tribe's hereditary Zibari enemy. She came to wield considerable power behind the scenes and is the mother of Massoud Barzani, the current Barzani and Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) leader.
   Mulla Mustafa first emerged in the early 1930s when, with his elder brother Sheik Ahmad Barzani, he opposed a plan to settle Assyrians in Barzani tribal land. Fighting erupted, but eventually, the Barzani brothers surrendered and were imprisoned. During World War II, Barzani escaped from house arrest and soon renewed his opposition to the government and various pro-government tribes. Despite early successes, Barzani was eventually forced across the Iranian frontier, where he became a general in the short-lived Ma-habad Republic of Kurdistan. He also became the leader of the new Kurdish (later Kurdistan) Democratic Party (KDP) founded in Iraq on 16 August 1946.
   With the fall of the Mahabad Republic in late 1946, Barzani was forced into an epic retreat with some of his best fighters to the Soviet Union, where he became known by some as the "Red Mulla." However, he did not become a communist. With the fall of the Iraqi monarchy in 1958, Barzani returned to Iraq, where he quickly regained his former tribal prominence.
   By 1961, Barzani was in full revolt against the government. Given the weakness of the Iraqi government in those days, Barzani was able to achieve considerable success and maintain a de facto independence for many years. During his long period of ascendancy, Barzani mastered the art of guerrilla warfare in his mountainous homeland. Barzani also battled against and defeated the forces of the KDP Politburo led by two former associates, Ibrahim Ahmed and his son-in-law Jalal Talabani. By the late 1960s, Barzani was the undisputed leader of the Iraqi Kurds.
   The March Manifesto (1970) reached with the Iraqi government, now led by the Baath Party and increasingly Saddam Hussein, held out the promise of real autonomy for the Kurds. In the end, however, neither side really wanted a compromise. The growing strength of the Baathist government and the treachery of the United States and Iran in withdrawing their support, which Barzani had naively come to rely on, finally enabled the Iraqi government to quickly win the new round of fighting that began in 1974 and ended in March 1975 with Barzani's total defeat. Broken and in ill health, Barzani eventually went into exile in the United States, where he died in March 1979. He was initially buried in Iran, but in 1993 he was reinterred in his Kurdish homeland (the town of Barzan) amid much emotional demonstrations on the part of all Iraqi Kurds.
   Although he was not a religious figure, throughout most of his career Barzani was known by the religious title "Mulla." The origins of this are obscure, although one close observer said it came from a maternal uncle. Be that as it may, the name "Mulla" was a proper name and not a title. Today most Kurdish writers prefer not to use the word because of its religious implications, but this historical dictionary does, as it is how Barzani was known throughout most of his life.

Historical Dictionary of the Kurds. .

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