- Following World War I, Great Britain artificially created Iraq out of the former Ottoman vilayets of Mosul, Baghdad, and Basra. This new state consisted of a numerical but politically repressedShiite Arab majority of perhaps 60 percent of the population, a ruling Sunni Arab minority of perhaps 20 percent, and the Kurds, who constituted perhaps another 20 percent. Other much smaller minorities included the Turkomans and Assyrians, among others. The new state became a British mandate under the League of Nations. Faisal I, a Hashemite ally of the British, was made king. It was understood that the Kurds were to negotiate their future position in the oil-rich state.From the beginning, however, the Kurds were in an almost constant state of revolt because their supposed rights were not implemented. The British established Sheikh Mahmud Barzinji of Sulay-maniya as their governor in 1919, for example, but he immediately began the first of several rebellions, even proclaiming himself king of Kurdistan. The British Royal Air Force (RAF) successfully bombed the sheikh's forces and put down his repeated uprisings. With the final defeat of Sheikh Mahmud in 1931, Mulla Mustafa Barzani began to emerge as the leader almost synonymous with the Kurdish movement in Iraq.Although Iraq technically became sovereign in 1932, it was not until the Hashemite monarchy was overthrown by a bloody coup on 14 July 1958 that the state really became independent. Article 23 of the new provisional constitution of Iraq gave the Kurds a recognition they had never before received in any other state when it declared: "The Kurds and the Arabs are partners within this nation. The Constitution guarantees their rights within the framework of the Iraqi Republic." Despite earlier hopes for reconciliation, however, hostilities between the government and the Kurds again commenced in September 1961 and raged intermittently throughout the 1960s.General Abdul Karim Kassem ruled from 1958 until he himself was overthrown and killed on 8 February 1963. The Baath Party briefly came to power for nine months and then permanently achieved power by two separate coups in July 1968. Saddam Hussein negotiated the March (1970) Manifesto with Mulla Mustafa Barzani that would have allowed a considerable amount of Kurdish autonomy. In the end, however, neither side was able to trust the other's ultimate intentions, and the fighting resumed in 1974. The status of the oil-rich city and area of Kirkuk was one of the major disagreements. Under the terms of the Algiers Agreement between Iran and Iraq, Iran ceased its support for Barzani, and by March 1975 he was overthrown. The Iraqi government then attempted to solve the Kurdish problem by destroying more than 3,000 Kurdish villages, exiling some 500,000 Kurds to the south, and establishing a Kurd-free buffer zone on the borders of northern Iraq. Guerrilla warfare, however, resumed by the late 1970s.The Iran-Iraq War during the 1980s offered new opportunities and dangers for the Iraqi Kurds, who ended up supporting Iran. The Iraqi Kurdistan Front of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), along with most of the other smaller Kurdish parties, held out the hope for Kurdish unity. In retribution for the Kurdish support for Iran, however, Saddam Hussein unleashed chemical weapons against the Kurds at Halabja and during his genocidal Anfal campaign.Saddam Hussein's annexation of Kuwait in August 1990 led to the first Gulf War (1991). Iraq's quick defeat, the failed Kurdish and Shiite uprisings at the end of the war, and the horrific Kurdish refugee flight to the borders ultimately led to intervention by the United States in the form of a no-fly zone over the north of Iraq. This response allowed the Kurds to establish a precariously situated, unrecognized de facto state that increasingly prospered despite vicious Kurdish infighting between Massoud Barzani's KDP and Jalal Talabani's PUK during the mid-1990s.In March 2003, the United States attacked Iraq and quickly overthrew Saddam Hussein. The Iraqi Kurds strongly supported this action in Gulf War II and were richly rewarded in postwar Iraq by having their Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) recognized as a federal entity by the new Iraqi Constitution adopted in October 2005. The KRG emerged as a largely democratic and relatively prosperous economic success story. The Kurds also were spared the vicious Shi-ite/Sunni Arab sectarian civil war complicated by external intervention that ensued in Iraq following the overthrow of Saddam Hussien. Gradually, however, the Shiite Arab numerical majority asserted its power and seemed to be institutionalizing its rule with significant Sunni Arab and Kurdish participation. Nevertheless, Turkey, Iran, and Syria remained potentially hostile. Thus, the future of the KRG remained uncertain, especially after the eventual withdrawal of U.S. troops.The Kurds presently number some 4 to 5 million of Iraq's 25 million people, or approximately 16-20 percent of the population of Iraq. Given the lack of precise population figures, of course, these numbers can only be approximations.
Historical Dictionary of the Kurds. Michael M. Gunter.
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