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INDEPTH: IRAQ
Struggle for Kurdistan
CBC News Online | January 31, 2005

The Kurds share a long history of failed deals and broken promises. In modern times, Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq have resisted the Kurdish drive to establish an independent homeland, while the West has for the most part been unwilling to get involved in their struggle.

In the 1890s, with the Ottoman Empire on its last legs, Kurdish nationalism began to stir. The 1920 Treaty of Sevres promised Kurds an independent homeland when Turkey was carved up after World War I. But Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, rejected the treaty. Turkish forces fought to regain the land, crushing a series of Kurdish revolts in 1920s and 1930s.

With losses mounting and little to show for it, Kurdish uprisings fizzled until 1984, when the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) took up arms under Abdullah Ocalan. Established in 1978, the PKK claimed its aim was independence for the Kurdish people. It has since scaled down that goal, saying it's willing to settle for an autonomous state or federation with Turkey. Ocalan was captured in Kenya in 1999 and sentenced to death. The sentenced was later commuted to life imprisonment when Turkey abolished the death penalty to qualify for admission into the European Union.

When the PKK was formed, the Kurds were not recognized as a separate people. Though they shared a common language, they were not allowed to speak it in public. That ban was lifted in 1991, but the language, related to Iran's Farsi, is still forbidden in broadcast and political settings.

The Kurdish struggle has fared little better across the border in Northern Iraq. Under a British mandate, revolts there were crushed in the 1920s and 1930s. Iraqi Kurds fought Baghdad off and on after the Second World War and in 1970, their struggle appeared to pay off. Baghdad agreed to recognize Kurdish language and self-rule in some areas. But the deal collapsed when Iraq refused to give up the oil-rich area of Kirkuk.

By 1974, the Kurds were waging an open war with Iraq. A major Iraqi offensive forced some 130,000 Kurds to seek refuge in Iran. One year later, the rebellion was quashed when Iran withdrew aid to the refugees in return for Iraqi border concessions.

It wasn't the first time Kurds were betrayed by Iran. In 1946, Iranian Kurds formed the Soviet-allied Republic of Mahabad, but that victory was also short-lived: the Iranian monarch crushed the new state the following year.

The plight of the Kurds received wide attention again in 1988, when Iraqi forces killed 5,000 Kurds in a poison-gas attack. After the 1991 Gulf War, Baghdad lost control over northern Iraq, where the U.S. and Britain established a no-fly zone to protect Kurds. In January 1999, the U.S. brokered a deal with Kurd factions that pledges they will become part of a future democratic Iraq.

In August 2002, two Kurdish groups were among six Iraqi opposition groups represented in talks with the U.S. State Department. Leaders of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) attended the meetings, which were aimed at brokering better co-operation with the U.S.

After the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003, Kurdish militias, tens of thousands of soldiers, took part in the campaign to oust Saddam Hussein. The militia, known as pesh merga, moved into Mosul and Kirkuk, alarming the Turkish government. Turkey even threatened to send its own troops into northern Iraq in April 2003. The U.S. tried to come to an agreement with Turkey on troop deployment, but Turkey backed out in November 2003.

When Iraq adopted a temporary constitution in March 2004, Kurds were effectively given a veto over the final constitution's wording. The document also made Kurdish an official state language, along with Arabic. One of the president's two deputies would also have to be Kurdish.

In the Iraqi election of 2005, the two main Kurdish parties, KDP and PUK, put aside their rivalry to run as the United Kurdistan Coalition with Turkmen, Assyrian and other parties. Because of the vote's proportional representation, the Kurds hope to hold a considerable block of seats in the Iraqi parliament.

At the same time as the national election, Kurds also voted for candidates for its own autonomous parliament, the Kurdistan Regional Government.




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Progress or Peril? Measuring Iraq's Reconstruction from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (.pdf document)

The Department of Foreign Affairs

CIDA

USAID

U.S. Department of Defence contracts

Iraq Program Management Office

Wolfowitz Memo (.pdf document)

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