Is a new, stable relationship between the Kurds of Iraq and the rest of
that country, short of separation, possible? During the Cold War, the
question would not even be put in this form; the international system took
the territorial integrity of the existing states for granted (the only
exception being Bangladesh’ separation from Pakistan). Eritrea’s
separation from Ethiopia in 1991, the wars in former Yugoslavia and the
break-up of the Soviet Union marked the beginning of a period in which
ethnicity acquired a higher degree of legitimacy as a relevant factor in
the international system. It was an international intervention that
created a ‘Safe Haven’ for the Kurds in northern Iraq in 1991, resulting
in a self-governing semi-independent Kurdish entity that year by year
became more Kurdish and less Iraqi.
A similar international intervention on behalf of ethnic Albanians in 1999
separated Kosovo from Serbia and placed it under an interim UN
administration mission. The Kosovars are evidently unwilling ever to
revert to Serbian rule, and the status of the territory is likely to
remain indeterminate for a long time, since full independence or
unification with Albania are not yet acceptable options for the UN. The
vast majority of the Iraqi Kurds adamantly reject the restoration of
central, i.e. Arab, control of their region and would opt for full
independence if that were an option. The modalities of re-integration of
the Kurdish region into Iraq will be renegotiated at every step. Nothing
short of a federal system with a high degree of self-government is likely
to satisfy the Kurds.
In the early months of 2003, when the American invasion Iraq was being
prepared, it looked as if the Kurds were willing to consider
re-integration in a remade, democratic post-Saddam Iraq. The American
planners of the invasion and administrators of the occupation had made it
clear to the Kurdish leaders that they wished to see a united Iraq with a
strong centre, and the Kurds appeared to concur. The two major Kurdish
parties, the KDP and the PUK, had continued pleading for autonomy and
federalism, which they have both written into their party programs, until
weeks before the war. But then, not wishing to antagonise the Americans,
the party leaders changed their tune and for a long time avoided even
mentioning the words federalism and autonomy. They even appeared willing
to accept the American demand that the Kurds’ own armed forces, the
peshmerga, were to be dissolved and become part of the new Iraqi army.
If the American plan for reconstituting Iraq had been more successful, the
party leaders might have found it very difficult to maintain anything
resembling the degree of self-rule that had existed for the previous 12
years. This would, however, have cost them the support of much or most of
the Kurdish population, who were not at all willing to countenance renewed
subjection to Baghdad and less susceptible to American (and Turkish)
pressure than the political leaders. A genuine grassroots movement calling
for significant autonomy, and then for a referendum on independence, swept
through all of Kurdistan, forcing the leaders to put autonomy back on the
agenda. This movement was led by intellectuals critical of the party
leadership, but it provided them with a strong argument in the
negotiations with the Americans and the other Iraqi political forces. In
late 2003, both leaders publicly stated that autonomy was not negotiable.
Mas`ud Barzani wrote in the Arabic-language KDP newspaper that the Kurds
would not settle for anything less than the measure of self-rule they had
enjoyed for the past twelve years.
The Transitional Administrative Law of mid-2004 explicitly speaks of
federalism and local government (but also of unified Iraq), and it
recognises the Kurdistan Regional Government as one of the local
authorities – a result of tough negotiations. National security policy and
border control, however, are to come under the Federal Government, and
independent militias will be prohibited, which means that considerable
powers will have to be transferred from the Kurdish Regional Government to
the Federal Government. The Kurdish peshmerga are presently the most
experienced and powerful military force in Iraq, and although the Kurdish
parties have agreed to the Transitional Administrative Law it is unlikely
that they would be willing to allow the peshmerga to be demobilised. Their
incorporation into the Iraqi Armed Forces and Police, proposed as the
solution for at least part of the peshmerga, conjures up the problems of
an ethnically divided army. Former peshmerga do not appear willing to
serve under Arab officers; and the Kurdish population will not easily
tolerate an Arab military presence in their region. It is true that
Kurdish peshmerga have joined the Iraqi Armed Forces and have apparently
taken an active part in operations in Falluja and Mosul in 2004, but this
appears to be more an extension of Kurdish military power into the Sunni
Arab zone than the absorption of Kurdish forces into all-Iraqi ones.
Autonomy, integration into Iraq, or independence?
The grassroots movement for independence ran a successful campaign
collecting 1.7 million signatures to demand an internationally supervised
referendum on the question of independence or integration in Iraq. On the
day of the elections, 30 January 2005, it organised its own unofficial
referendum in booths outside the official polling stations. The elections
that day may not have been entirely free – other parties than the Kurdish
Alliance did not have much of a chance in the districts under Kurdish
control – but there can be little doubt that this unofficial referendum
allowed the Kurds to express their real feelings on Iraq. The outcome
probably surprised even the organisers: almost 2 million people took part,
and over 95 per cent of them opted for independence rather than staying in
even a federal Iraq.
The experienced leaders of the Kurdish parties have always been more
pragmatic and diplomatic than the organisers of the referendum and have
carefully avoided speaking of independence, limiting their demands to
autonomy within Iraq. However, these leaders not only tolerated but also
facilitated the referendum (although the initiative came from
intellectuals critical of them), probably because it strengthens their
position in the coming negotiations in the National Assembly.
Autonomy for Kurdistan (and democracy for Iraq) has been the rallying call
of the Iraqi Kurdish movement since the 1960s. (The major Kurdish party of
Iran adopted the same slogan: ‘autonomy for Kurdistan and democracy for
all of Iran’. When journalists visiting KDP-Iran leader Abdul Rahman
Ghassemlou during the years when his party controlled a large part of
Kurdistan asked him why he did not claim independence, he famously joked
that Kurdistan is a small land-locked country and he would love to be
elected president of all of Iran.) The central element of the March 1970
peace agreement, which ended nine years of guerrilla war, was the
recognition of autonomy for the entire regions where Kurds constituted the
majority of the population as well as a significant representation of the
Kurds in the central government. The agreement spoke of autonomy for
Kurdistan; the pragmatic Kurdish negotiators had not insisted on the
second part of their slogan, democracy for Iraq.
Subsequent experience has convinced all politically aware Kurds that
autonomy as such is no guarantee against severe violations of human
rights. The March 1970 agreement was the direct reason for the central
government to carry out a wave of deportations of Kurds (and Turkmen) from
the Kirkuk, Khaniqin and Sinjar districts designed to prevent these
oil-rich and strategically important regions becoming part of the
autonomous Kurdish region. Autonomy, for part of the Kurdish region
(notably excluding Kirkuk, Khaniqin and Sinjar), was formally proclaimed
in 1974 and never withdrawn in spite of the renewed Kurdish uprising of
1974-75, in which the Kurds received unprecedented levels of Iranian,
Israeli and American covert support.
Following the collapse of the Kurdish movement in March 1975, when Iran
ended its support, the regime unilaterally carried out its part of the
A regional parliament was established — as powerless as the national
parliament, and perhaps even more devoid of popular legitimacy, but at
least consisting of people from the region. The autonomy had
stipulated that military and intelligence forces in the region as well as
border control were to depend directly on the relevant departments of the
central government. The presence of army and especially the intelligence
services in the region was accordingly stepped up. Border control took the
form of the evacuation of a broad zone along the Iranian and Turkish
borders and destruction of all villages in this region (‘in order to
prevent infiltration by insurgents based abroad’). People uprooted from
this zone, and from other sensitive areas where demographic changes were
deliberately effected, were partly resettled in the south, partly in
resettlement camps in the Kurdish region. Further forced resettlements
continued through most of the 1980s, in response to the Iran-Iraq war and
the low-intensity guerrilla activity by KDP and PUK. During the 1970s and
1980s, some 80 per cent of the Kurdish villages were destroyed and their
inhabitants resettled. This culminated in the genocidal Anfal campaign of
1988, in which at least fifty thousand and perhaps several times that
number were killed.
Altogether close to 4,000 villages in Iraqi Kurdistan (out of an estimated
total of around 5,000) were destroyed during the 1970s and 1980s and their
inhabitants deported or killed.
Whatever autonomy and federalism mean to the Iraqi Kurds – and there
exists no doubt a wide range of understandings of these key concepts –
there appears to be a consensus that the only acceptable arrangement is
one that will protect them effectively from a repetition of the Anfal
campaign and the village destruction of the 1980s. The strength of the
movement for independence is fed by the memories of oppression and
genocide under Ba`th-administered autonomy.
Kirkuk, the Turkmen, and Turkey
Most Kurds want independence, and they want control of Kirkuk as well,
claiming that the Kurds had constituted the majority in that province
before deportations and boundary changes decreased their numbers. Both
demands are unacceptable to most Iraqi Arabs and perhaps even more so to
Turkey, which fears the impact of such developments on its own Kurds.
Turkish politicians and generals have repeatedly warned that Kurdish
independence or even a significant autonomy is unacceptable to them, and
that Kurdish control of Kirkuk is considered as a threat to vital Turkish
interests. It strengthened its relations with the Turkmen minority and
supported Turkmen territorial claims in order to counter those of the
Kurds. Before the war, Turkey threatened it would intervene militarily if
the Kurds were to attempt to press their claims. However, since Turkey’s
parliament refused the US access to its territory for opening a northern
front against Saddam, the country has not been in the position to carry
out this threat, and its statements in support of the Turkmen minority
have been ineffective.
The Kurdish claims to Kirkuk and the government’s determination to keep
this province under central control were perhaps the major reason why the
1970 peace agreement did not hold and a new war broke out in 1974. Mulla
Mustafa Barzani in those years insisted that Kirkuk should be the capital
of the autonomous Kurdish region, a claim that has recently been repeated
by various Kurdish spokespersons. This claim inevitably brings the Kurds
in conflict with at least two other claimants to the city and surrounding
districts, the Turkmen minority and the central government. Kirkuk lies in
a wide zone with an ethnically mixed population, which has moreover
experienced dramatic demographic changes in the course of the twentieth
century. Kurds, Turkmen and Arabs lay conflicting claims to this zone, and
all have their historical accounts and memories to buttress their claims.
It is widely accepted that the region that was controlled by the Kurdish
Regional Government during the 1990s constitutes only a part of the entire
Kurdish region; there is a large zone to the south and west where many
Kurds live or used to live, and in parts of that zone they constitute, or
once constituted, the majority of the population. This can be illustrated
with the first two of the accompanying maps.
Map 1 (from the 2003 edition of the CIA’s World Factbook) gives a
very sketchy impression of a much more complex situation. It shows the
regions controlled by the two major Kurdish parties, KDP and PUK (with a
smaller area under the control of the Islamic Movement of Kurdistan), and
a considerable Kurdish-inhabited zone to the south and west of these
regions, which had remained under central government control until 2003.
Note that Kirkuk and surroundings are not indicated as Kurdish on this map
(which is based on estimates of actual population distribution before
2003). The large Kurdish area between Kirkuk and Mosul, known as Makhmur,
is an extension of the fertile plain of Arbil. The districts to the west
of Mosul are not densely inhabited, with the exception of the Sinjar
hills, which are largely Kurdish.
Map 2 (also from the 2003 CIA World Factbook) shows some of the
other ethnic groups in this region: the Turkmen and the Arabs, and it
locates the major Arab and Kurdish tribes. Kirkuk is shown here as mixed
Arab, Kurdish and Turkmen; there is a broad Arab corridor northwest of
Kirkuk that cuts deep into Kurdish territory — a cartographic rendering of
Arabisation policies of the previous decades. The situation on the ground
is far more complicated than this map can show: besides Sunni Turkmen
there are also Shi`i Turkmen communities (e.g. in Tel `Afar, west of Mosul
and in Tuz Khurmatu, south of Kirkuk) and numerous Shi`i Arabs (around
Kirkuk, arriving since 1970) as well as Shi`i Kurds (at Khaniqin, Mandali
and further south). There are moreover various groups in the zone between
Mosul, Kirkuk and Khaniqin that are neither Kurds nor Turks or Arabs but
are claimed by all.
For Kurdish nationalists, most of the population inhabiting this zone is
Kurdish, or was so before the Arabisation policies and deportations of the
1970s and 1980s, and the Hamrin mountain range is conveniently considered
as the southern boundary of Kurdistan. This is illustrated by Map 3,
showing current Kurdish claims. The southern boundary circumvents the city
of Mosul, which has a large Arab and Christian population but also some
populous Kurdish neighbourhoods (and some Kurdish nationalists would
therefore lay claim to part of the city as well).
Turkmen nationalists, supported in this by many Turkish politicians, claim
the same zone and even more, including Mosul as well as Arbil and
surroundings, for themselves because the towns in this zone have a large
Turkish-speaking population (see Map 4). In the early twentieth century,
most of this Turkish-speaking population were Turkmen, who claimed descent
from the Seljuq Turks, and some were Ottoman officials,
but there were also urban families of Kurdish descent who had adopted
Turkish, the language of the state, as their first language. Under Ottoman
rule, the Turkmen had constituted the predominant element of the urban
population in this zone, though never the majority of the population.
Under the British mandate and in independent Iraq, they gradually lost
their predominance. Arabic replaced Turkish as the first official
language, and in education and public life, Kurdish was used besides
Arabic. The decline of the Turkish language was accompanied by the
receding influence of the Turkmen elite. Some members of this elite left
the region and settled in Turkey.
In Arbil, Kurdish came to replace Turkish as the dominant language in the
first half of the twentieth century, partly due to immigration, partly to
the Kurdicisation of Turkish speakers. Kirkuk had always been the centre
of Turkmen culture and Turkmen power, and the most important families of
notables were all Turkmen. Their family names indicate that they had held
high military or bureaucratic office or used to be traders or craftsmen.
Here too, the Kurds living in the city were often Turkish speakers. (The
same was true much further north, in such cities as Bitlis and Diyarbekir,
well before the Republic banned the use of Kurdish.) The British officials
who knew these parts best, Edmonds and Lyon, call the Turkmen the
predominant population of Kirkuk but add that Kurds constituted the
majority of the rural population of Kirkuk. The most influential Kurd in
the city was a religious leader, a shaykh of the Naqshbandiyya Sufi order,
Ahmad-i Khanaqa, whose power derived from his large rural following.
Another religious family, affiliated with the Qadiriyya Sufi order, was
that of the Talabani, who had settled in the city in the first half of the
The family’s prominence gradually increased through the twentieth century;
in the 1970s, the incumbent shaykh was said to have some 50,000 followers.
The commercial exploitation of the oil wells of Kirkuk, which began around
1930, caused a rapid urbanisation and attracted workers from other parts
of the country. Initially it was in particular Kurds who came to settle in
the city; later these were joined by smaller numbers of Arabs. At the same
time, large numbers of Kurds from the mountains were settling in the
uninhabited but cultivable rural parts of the district of Kirkuk.
Many Turkmen have an understandable fear of being submerged by the Kurds.
The claim of (some) Turkmen to the entire zone, however, as opposed to
just the town of Kirkuk, is a recent development and probably a response
to the establishment of the Kurdish Regional Government in the 1990s. Some
Turkmen have begun referring to this zone by the recently coined name of
Turkmeneli, ‘Turkmen land’.
Turkish politicians of various persuasions have spoken out strongly in
favour of Turkmen territorial claims in northern Iraq, apparently hoping
to prevent the Iraqi Kurds from achieving their objectives.
In the claims for this contested and ethnically heterogeneous zone, all
claimants have recourse to statistics from the early twentieth century.
There exist Turkish, British and Iraqi statistics of the ethnic
composition of Kirkuk as well as the entire Vilayet of Mosul (the Ottoman
province comprising present northern Iraq). These statistics diverge
enormously, which reflects conflicting ambitions towards this region as
well as the ambiguous ethnic identity of part of the population. The
future political status of the Vilayet of Mosul was to be determined by
the League of Nations after a consultation of its population, and Turkey,
Britain and the British-appointed Arab King Faisal had an understandable
interest in influencing the League’s decision, and population statistics
were adduced to argue in favour of independence (as some Kurds demanded),
assignment to Turkey, or to Iraq. Another possible reason for
contradictory statistics is the existence in this region of various
communities that are not unambiguously Kurdish, Turkish or Arab. Heterodox
communities, such as the Kaka’i, Sarli and Shabak, who speak various
Gurani dialects (an Iranian language different from but related to Kurdish
proper), and even the Kurdish-speaking Yezidis, have been counted as Kurds
by the Kurds, as Turkmen by the Turkmen, and as Arabs by Arab
The Christians of the region, mostly Assyrians and Chaldaeans, have been
called ‘Kurdish Christians’ as well as ‘Christian Arabs’ (whereas in
Kirkuk, the Christians spoke Turkish). Disagreement on the ethnic identity
of ambiguous communities, however, can hardly explain the low percentage
of Kurds and the inflated number of Turks in the statistics presented by
the Turkish government:
Population of the Vilayet of Mosul:
263,830 (39.2 %)
427,720 (54.5 %)
520,007 (64.9 %)
185,763 (23.7 %)
166,941 (20.8 %)
146,960 (21.8 %)
65,895 (8.4 %)
38,652 (4.8 %)
Christians and Jews
31,000 (4.6 %)
62,225 (7.9 %)
16,865 (2.1 %)
61,336 (7.7 %)
11,897 (1.5 %)
18,000 (2.7 %)
30,000 (3.8 %)
26,257 (3.3 %)
Total settled population
503,000 (74.7 %)
170,000 (25.3 %)
Sources: A Turkish statistics produced at the
Lausanne conference in 1923
B Estimates by British officers in 1921
C Enumeration by the Government of Iraq (1922-24)
(After: Mim Kemal Öke, Musul meselesi kronolojisi (1918-1926) [A
chronology of the Mosul Question, 1918-1926]. Istanbul: Türk Dünyası
Araştırmaları Vakfı,1987, p. 157)
The Mosul Commission of the League of Nations found that the Turkish
government had listed various tribes and communities as Turkish that had
no discernable Turkish origins and spoke Kurdish or related dialects. Of
the Bayat tribe, which is in fact of Turkish ancestry, the Commission
noted that it was largely Arabised, through intermarriage and linguistic
It is probably on the basis of these early Turkish statistics, which were
produced to shore up Turkish claims to the province in the course of
negotiations at the conference of Lausanne, that later extravagant Turkish
and Turkmen assertions were made. Turkish politicians such as (former
Prime Minister) Bülent Ecevit have repeatedly put forward, and apparently
themselves believed, the amazing claim that there are no less than 2.5
million Turkmen in Iraq, the protection of whom is Turkey’s natural duty.
The Kurds also refer to the early twentieth century statistics (but for
obvious reasons to the British or Iraqi figures) to stake their claim of
being the dominant ethnic group in the entire Vilayet of Mosul. The most
reliable statistics available, however, may be those of the 1957 general
census. In that census people were asked for their mother tongue. That is
not identical to their ethnic affiliation, of course, but the question was
apparently perceived as one of ethnicity rather than of language per se,
as the quaint categories ‘Hebrew’ and ‘Chaldaean and Syrian’ indicate —
Iraqi Jews did not speak Hebrew but Aramaic or Arabic; most Chaldaeans
spoke Arabic, those of Kirkuk even Turkish.
Results of the Official General Census of 1957 for Kirkuk Governorate (liva)
City of Kirkuk
Remainder of the liva
Total liva of Kirkuk
Percentage of total liva pop.
(*) The census category indicated is not linguistic but religious:
‘Chaldaean and Syrian’
(**) Including speakers of languages not listed here, such as English,
(after: Nouri Talabany, Arabization of the Kirkuk region. Uppsala,
2001, p. 103)
The data of the 1920s, even if reliable, are not really comparable to
those of 1957 and of later counts because the Kirkuk liva then included
Arbil, whose population has a different composition. In the 1970s, the
heavily Kurdish districts of Chamchemal and Kalar were detached from
Kirkuk province and joined to Sulaymani. Only very rough estimates of the
volume of population movements into and from Kirkuk are therefore
possible. Turkmen complaints of demographic changes are not unfounded.
During the first half of the twentieth century, the plains between Arbil
and Kirkuk were gradually settled by Kurdish peasants, a process that had
already begun in the nineteenth century. The exploitation of Kirkuk’s oil,
as said, attracted both Arabs and Kurds to the city in search of work.
Kirkuk, which had been a predominantly Turkish city, gradually lost its
uniquely Turkish character.
The political mobilisation following the 1958 coup d’état and the
prominence of the Iraqi Communist Party among the (Kurdish) oil workers
caused increasing tension between Turkmen, who felt they were being
submerged, and the mostly Kurdish immigrants. Violent clashes in 1959,
variously described as ‘communist-Turkmen’ or ‘Kurdish-Turkmen’, left
several dozen dead, most of them Turkmen. In the Turkmen exile press in
Turkey, supported by Turkish nationalist circles, this event attained
almost mythical proportions and it has been of lasting importance in
defining Turkish perceptions of northern Iraq.
The influx of Kurds into Kirkuk continued through the 1960s. Soon after
the peace agreement of 1970, however, which opened the door to Kurdish
autonomy, the government took measures to strengthen the Arab character of
the governorate of Kirkuk (which, after the nationalisation of the Iraq
Oil Company in 1972 was renamed Ta’mim, ‘Nationalisation’). Kurds were
deported to southern Iraq, Arabs from the south (mostly Shi`a, it seems)
were settled in Kirkuk. From the 1980s there are also reports of hundreds
of Turkmen families from Kirkuk being resettled in mujamma`at in
In the 1988 Anfal operations, a large part of the Kurdish
population of the eastern districts of Kirkuk governorate disappeared.
There may not be many male survivors of those operations. In the Kurdish
uprising of early 1991, following the liberation of Kuwait, the Kurds and
Turkmen of Kirkuk, like the population of other parts of Kurdistan, took
control of the city and expelled Iraqi Ba`th party and intelligence
For a few weeks, the city was under Kurdish control. The elite Republican
Guard had, however, not been destroyed in the war as was initially
believed. After brutally putting down the Shi`i rebellion in the south, it
moved towards Kurdistan. The Shi`i Turkmen town of Tuz Khurmatu was razed;
the people of Kirkuk fled their city in panic towards the mountains and
thence to the Iranian or Turkish borders. The Iraqi troops reoccupied all
towns and pushed the fleeing masses towards the borders. Turkey allowed
Turkmen to cross into the country and opened a refugee camp for them at
Yozgat, but the much more numerous Kurds were not allowed to enter and had
to camp in snow and mud on the Iraqi side of the border. This humanitarian
disaster — an estimated one to two million had fled their homes, hundreds
of thousands were pressed on the Turkish-Iraqi border, exposed to snow and
rain and wind — was the reason for the international intervention
(‘Operation Provide Comfort’) that established a ‘safe haven’ and
ultimately a free Kurdish region in northern Iraq.
Arabisation policies continued after 1991 in the regions under central
government control. Kurds, Turkmen and Assyrians were pressured to
‘correct’ their ethnic identity and register as Arabs, become members of
the Ba`th party and join one of the militia forces. Families who refused
were harassed; and many were forced to flee to the Kurdish-controlled
region. In the most detailed study made of Arabisation policies of the
1990s, Human Rights Watch concluded that “[s]ince the 1991 Gulf War, an
estimated 120,000 Kurds, Turkomans and Assyrians have been expelled to the
Kurdish-controlled northern provinces”, most of them from Kirkuk and
Kirkuk after the war
Many of the displaced persons from Kirkuk did not dare to return to their
city and remained in the ‘free’ Kurdish zone, especially in Sulaymani and
Arbil, until 2003. Small numbers succeeded in finding their way to Europe.
Since the ‘conquest’ or ‘liberation’ of Kirkuk by PUK peshmerga and US
special troops in April 2003, both Kurds and Turkmen who had previously
lived in the city and governorate have returned, from Turkey or from the
‘free’ Kurdish region. Both streams of returnees – the Kurdish no doubt
more numerous than the Turkmen – were considered by the others as part of
a deliberate effort by the Kurdish parties or the Turkish government to
change the demographic balance. On the day after the conquest of Kirkuk,
newspapers in Turkey carried stories about Kurds raiding the city’s land
and population registries in order to wipe out record of the Turkmen
presence, and destroying Turkmen graveyards in order to erase proof of the
Turkmen past. These allegations, originating with Turkmen exile circles in
Ankara, appeared to have no basis in fact and soon disappeared again from
the Turkish press.
They were soon followed by numerous Turkmen complaints of American
partiality favouring Kurds over Turkmen and Arabs.
In the city council elected in May 2003, Turkmen were severely
under-represented, with 6 out of 30 members, against 11 Kurdish, 7
Christian and 6 Arab members). A year later, the council was enlarged by
10 members, of whom 4 were Turkmen and only 2 Kurdish. However, as the
most vocal Turkmen party complained, one of the new Turkmen members and a
new Arab member were ‘pro-Kurdish’. These councils elected Kurds to most
of the important positions: the governor, police chief and mayor are
Kurds, and so are the vast majority of heads of government offices.
Not all Turkmen were equally distressed by the new situation; as the
report noted; there were apparently also ‘pro-Kurdish’ Turkmen. And, one
should add, there was a broad range of Turkmen political parties and
movements, several of which co-operated closely with the Kurdish parties.
The Iraqi Turkmen Front, established in 1995, is a coalition of over
twenty groups, including the Iraqi Turkmen National Party, which had
previously been the party most closely allied with Turkish military and
intelligence circles (to the extent that it was considered by many as the
local front for Turkey’s national intelligence organisation). The Front
has been receiving Turkish government largesse, and it is the most active
Turkmen organisation abroad and in cyberspace. It presents the Turkmen as
a numerous and compact nation, whose homeland, Turkmeneli, constitutes a
broad zone between the Kurdish and Arab parts of Iraq, of which Kirkuk is
the natural capital (see Map 4). It is obvious that this view conflicts
with that of the Kurds, who also see Kirkuk as their future capital and
claim to be the majority population of the same broad zone. The Front’s
legitimacy is also contested by many Turkmen who are uneasy about its
close relationship with the Turkish state. The very day after the Iraqi
Turkmen Front was established, a rival front with largely Shi`i Turkmen
support emerged, the Turkmen Islamic Front, allegedly an Iranian proxy.
Its successor, the Turkmen Islamic Union, apparently has good relations
with the leading Kurdish party in the region, the PUK. Two other Turkmen
parties exist but appear to be small, the Iraqi Turkmen Democratic Party
and the Turkmen People’s Party.
There is a small but vocal Iraqi Turkmen community in Turkey, which has
close contacts with Turkish extreme nationalist and intelligence circles;
besides, the Iraqi Turkmen Front established a representation in
Washington to press its claims for a greater share in post-Saddam Iraq. It
has issued numerous statements about Kurdish violations of Turkmen rights
and clashes between Kurds and Turkmen, but most of these appear much
Most observers had expected serious ethnic clashes in Kirkuk, but
primarily between Kurds and Arabs when the former would return to reclaim
houses and land they had been forced to leave under Arabisation. There
have been reports of fights over houses and land, both in the city and in
surrounding villages, but the level of conflict proved much less then
predicted — for which the PUK, which conquered the city and organised
security, claims credit. Many Arabs appear to have fled the region during
the war, fearing retribution; where they had stayed behind, negotiations
and threats rather than outright expulsions were the rule. An equal
sharing of the harvest between original owners and present occupants of
the land, proposed by the Americans, was widely observed.
The elections obviously were crucial to the Kurdish and Turkmen claims to
Kirkuk, and the question of who was to be allowed to vote there was
clearly most contentious. By threatening to pull out of the elections
altogether, the KDP and PUK succeeded in persuading the High Election
Commission that some 108,000 Kurds who had recently re-entered Kirkuk from
elsewhere would be allowed to vote for the Ta’mim governorate council. As
a result, the Kurdish united list (which also contained Turkmen
candidates) won no less than 58.5 per cent of the votes and 26 out of 41
seats; 9 seats went to Turkmen parties, and 6 to Arab parties. Even before
the election results were known, there were predictable protests from the
Iraqi Turkmen Front and two Shi`a parties, al-Da`wa and Muqtada al-Sadr’s
movement. It was claimed that the latter had withdrawn from the elections
in protest. A demonstration on Friday 11 February in Kirkuk (Al-Jazeera
spoke of ‘hundreds of Arab and Turkmen protestors’, indicating this was
not a massive protest movement) called for a new election in Ta’mim. The
Turkmen Front protested with the High Election Commission over alleged
vote rigging by the Kurdish parties, but their protest was rejected by the
council, which admitted that some irregularities had taken place but that
contrary to what was asserted, only people who were registered as voters
had cast their ballots.
The Iraqi Turkmen Front performed particularly poorly both in Kirkuk and
at the national level. In the elections for the Iraqi National Council,
the Kurdish Alliance (the united list of KDP and PUK) received just over a
quarter of the vote and 75 out of 275 seats. The Iraqi Turkmen Front won 3
seats. Interestingly, more Turkmen candidates were elected on other
tickets: 5 entered the Council as members of the (Shi`i) United Iraqi
Alliance, 4 as representatives of the Kurdistan Alliance, and one on
Allawi’s Iraqi list.
Turkey, Iran, Syria and their proxies
The existence of the two Turkmen fronts just mentioned draws our attention
to the not negligible role of neighbouring countries in northern Iraq.
Turkey’s role has been quite conspicuous, carrying out military incursions
into Iraqi Kurdistan more or less regularly since 1983 and having
permanent military missions present as far as Sulaymani. Iran and Syria
have been more circumspect, but they too have their close allies among the
various political movements in Iraq, and they maintain relations of
varying degrees of friendliness with a wider range of forces. Iranian
troops in the 1990s made several incursions into the region in
(unsuccessful) attempts to destroy the headquarters of the Kurdistan
Democratic Party of Iran, located in the region between Sulaymani and
Syria does not appear to have had a military presence itself in the
region, but it has been accused of masterminding the attack by PKK
guerrillas on KDP forces just after the US-brokered peace agreement of
Drogheda between the PUK and KDP in 1995, which recognised Turkey’s
‘legitimate security interests’ in the region.
The Kurdish parties have a relationship with Iran that goes back forty
years. From 1964 on, Iran has been giving some logistical and arms support
to the Iraqi Kurds, evolving into significant co-operation in the early
1970s, until the Shah concluded a favourable peace agreement with Saddam
Hussein in March 1975 and stopped his support of the Kurds. This caused
the collapse of the Kurdish insurrection, but some 50,000 refugees were
welcomed in Iran. By the end of the decade, Iran was at least conniving
in, and probably supporting, a low-intensity guerrilla movement of the
revived KDP under Barzani’s sons Masud and Idris, and Syria supported
Talabani’s PUK (that had been established in Damascus and moved its
headquarters to the Iraqi-Iranian border in 1976). The Islamic revolution
did not bring about major changes in Iran’s attitude towards the Iraqi
Kurds: the relations with the KDP remained most cordial (to the extent
that the KDP helped the Iranian regime militarily against the Iranian
Kurds), but both parties were in regular communication with Iranian
intelligence organisations. During the Iran-Iraq war, Iran encouraged the
Iraqi Kurds to extend their activities and bring parts of the Kurdish
region under their control.
The Revolutionary Guards established a liaison office (the Qarargah-i
Ramazan) that co-ordinated military actions with the Kurdish parties.
The Qarargah-i Ramazan still exists and is presently based in
Sulaymani. It is believed to be the centre of Iran’s intelligence
operations in northern Iraq.
Besides, there are also Iranian liaison officers in Barzani’s headquarters
Iran considers the American occupation as a serious threat to itself and
perceives the encirclement of Iran as one of the objectives of America’s
war on Saddam. Like Turkey, it does not wish to see Iraq dismembered, and
it has been using its influence with the Kurdish parties to counsel them a
course of moderation and re-integration in Iraq rather than further
separation. Iran has been accused of supporting the radical Islamist
Kurdish group Ansar al-Islam, allowing them to retreat into Iran
when they were almost wiped out by a joint PUK – US operation in March
2003 and to infiltrate Iraq again after the war.
Turkey’s covert involvement with the Iraqi Kurds also goes back a long
time. It has never actually supported them, but there have been
intelligence liaisons since the 1960s. In the late 1970s, Turkey and Iraq
signed a secret agreement allowing their armed forces to cross into each
other’s territory up to 30 km in hot pursuit of guerrillas. Iraq never had
occasion to use this right, but Turkey frequently did so once the PKK, the
radical Kurdish nationalist organisation from Turkey, established a
presence in northern Iraq. Since 1983 there have been annual raids into
Iraqi Kurdistan by the Turkish armed forces, that were not particularly
effective against the PKK but had the effect of projecting Turkey’s
influence into the region. Many analysts are convinced that it was not
only or not even primarily the PKK that was the objective of these
operations but the protection of Turkey’s strategic interests in the
region – in other words, preventing the Kurds of Iraq from achieving a
status resembling independence. In retrospect, Turkey was not very
successful in this aim either. Improving the status of the Turkmen in Iraq
appears not to have been a high priority objective of Turkey, although the
plight and rights of the Turkmen have been prominent in public discourse.
They provide Turkey with justification for its involvement but the real
objective is to prevent developments that might give the Kurds of Turkey
an incentive to work towards separation.
Turkey continues to express a vital interest in developments in northern
Iraq, but its decision not to take part in the war on Saddam as well as
its desire to join the EU have acted as brakes on the military’s desire to
play a more active role. There is an ambiguity in Turkey’s relations with
the Iraqi Kurds. For ideological reasons, most of the political and
military elite consider significant Kurdish autonomy as unacceptable, let
alone independence. On the other hand, Turkey has accorded the KDP and PUK
a higher degree of recognition than most other countries; both have had
high-level representatives in Ankara since the early 1990s. The Khabur
border crossing between Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan has remained open
throughout this period (with a brief interruption during the war), and
Iraqi Kurds could cross with documents provided by the Kurdish regional
administration. In mid-2004, Turkey announced its intention to open a
second border crossing. Trade relations have been mutually beneficial. It
is not inconceivable that gradually more Turkish policy makers will come
to see, as the late President Turgut Özal apparently did, that close
economic and political ties with an autonomous or even an independent
Iraqi Kurdistan might well serve Turkey’s long-term interests.
Both Syria and Iran have supported the PKK (in the case of Iran, it is not
very clear which segments of the establishment were involved, most likely
the Revolutionary Guards and the intelligence organisation Savama). Both
countries have engaged throughout the 1990s in periodic tripartite
consultations with Turkey concerning developments in northern Iraq, but
Syria and Iran have watched Turkey’s involvement with concern.
All of Iraq’s neighbours are highly concerned about the close relationship
that has again been developing between the Iraqi Kurdish parties and
Israel. Israeli instructors have since late 2003 allegedly been training
Kurdish commando units for special operations against Sunni and Shi`i
militants. Israeli intelligence operatives are also said to be using Iraqi
Kurdistan as a basis for covert operations in the Kurdish regions of Iran
and Syria, supporting opposition movements and electronically monitoring
Iran’s nuclear program.
Israeli agents can operate relatively easily in Iraqi Kurdistan because of
the historically good relations between Kurds and the Jewish communities
of Kurdistan, which have migrated to Israel but many members of which have
been revisiting the region since 1991.
The PKK has had base camps in Iraqi Kurdistan since 1982, well before the
raids on police and military posts of August 1984 that are commonly
considered as the beginning of the guerrilla war in Turkey. The Turkish
army has carried out numerous air strikes and land operations against
these bases but has failed to dislodge the PKK. Under Turkish pressure,
the KDP (in whose territory most of the base camps were located) and the
PUK have attempted to dissuade the PKK from carrying out guerrilla raids
inside Turkey from these bases; the KDP has made a sustained but effort to
expel or destroy the PKK units in its zone. This does not appear to have
had much effect on the PKK’s ability to carry on the guerrilla struggle.
In the mid-1990s, there were tens of thousands of PKK guerrillas, who
moved relatively freely between camps in Iraqi Kurdistan and their
mountain camps in Turkish Kurdistan. The PKK was then gaining support
among young Iraqi Kurds as well, as disaffection with Barzani’s and
Talabani’s leadership was mounting. There are no estimates of its present
influence among the Iraqi Kurds.
Following the capture of its leader Abdullah Öcalan in early 1999, the PKK
renounced on the armed struggle and withdrew its fighters from Turkey into
Iraq. Several groups gave themselves up to Turkey, in a gesture meant to
build trust — without having the desired effect, however. Other fighters
may have moved elsewhere – to Iran, Armenia, various European countries –
and some five thousand fighters are believed to remain (but there is no
reliable source on their numbers). Their major military camps are in the
Khakurk mountains in the ‘triangle’ where Turkey, Iraq and Iran meet, in
the Qandil range further south on the Iranian border, and in a location
yet further south, in PUK territory but out of reach of PUK fighters. One
American observer saw them near Khakurk in mid-2004, and noticed they
appeared comfortably in control of their mountainous hideouts, taxing
In the prelude to the American invasion, the PKK made conflicting
statements, but after the Americans had occupied Iraq, the party’s
leadership council made several conciliatory statements. It has sought to
approach the American authorities in Iraq and apparently hopes for
American mediation in the hoped-for negotiations with Turkey. Neither the
KDP nor the PUK has managed to dislodge these hardened fighters from their
strongholds; the Americans have never even tried and appear to have given
them a low priority among issues to be solved.
In the spring of 2004, the PKK leadership in Iraq announced the resumption
of the guerrilla struggle in Turkey, and since then there have been a
series of minor incidents in south-eastern Turkey and a few bombings in
western Turkey that were attributed to the PKK. This caused a split among
the party leadership and several leading members, including Öcalan’s
brother Osman, left the PKK to found another organisation.
Besides the guerrilla fighters, there is also a contingent of civilian
Kurds present in the region who are considered as close to the PKK. In
April-May 1994, several thousand families from districts just north of the
Iraqi border, altogether some 12,000-15,000 civilians, took refuge in
northern Iraq. Their region was then subjected to extremely brutal
counter-insurgency operations, which, they claimed, made ordinary life
impossible. They were settled in a camp in Atrush in the
Kurdish-controlled zone, under UNHCR supervision. The majority of these
refugees appeared to sympathise with the PKK, and PKK activists appeared
to be in control of the camp. About half of these refugees returned to
Turkey in the course of the next few years. When Turkey announced a major
military incursion into northern Iraq in 1997, the camp was moved further
south to Makhmur, in a part of Kurdistan under central government control.
The UNHCR continued to monitor the camp.
The camp at Makhmur has acquired the symbolic importance of being the only
place where a young generation of Turkish Kurds was educated in the
Kurdish language. The camp ran a school where all classes were in Kurdish.
Many families in the camp belong to the Goyan tribe, which was divided by
the boundary of 1926. Members of this tribe moved easily across the border
and back. In the 1970s, Iraq expelled hundreds of Goyan families to Turkey
on the ground that they were of ‘foreign’ descent. The Goyan probably were
culturally closer to north Iraqi Kurdish tribes than many other Turkish
Kurds were. The PKK apparently expected that these refugees would play a
role in spreading the party’s ideological influence to the surrounding
Iraqi Kurdish population.
Re-opening the Mosul file
In the past decade and a half, both Turkish and Kurdish politicians have
suggested that the settlement of the Mosul question might not be
definitive after all and that there might be a basis in international law
for re-opening the case. This approach should perhaps be distinguished
from the irredentist emotions appealed to by traditional nationalist
circles in Turkey that have never given up lamenting the loss of Mosul. It
will be remembered that the League of Nations had assigned the Vilayet of
Mosul to Iraq in 1926, following the advice of a commission that had
toured the contested province to assess the wishes of its population and
had found Turkey’s claims too weak and the Kurds themselves too divided.
Mainstream Turkish politics has henceforth renounced all claims to Mosul
(and by implication to the oil of Kirkuk). Kurdish nationalists have
recognised that the League’s decision on Mosul precluded international
support for independence. Around 1991, however, the finality of this
decision began to be questioned.
Turgut Özal, who dominated Turkish politics through the 1980s until his
death in 1993, first as prime minister and then as the president, had a
grand vision of solving Turkey’s two major international questions (Cyprus
and the Kurds) and leading the country into the European Union as well as
making it the major interface between Central Asia, the Middle East and
the West. Projecting Turkey’s ‘strategic sphere of influence’ into
northern Iraq was part of his vision; unlike his contemporaries, he
appeared to believe in co-operation with, not domination of the Kurds. In
1991 he persuaded President George Bush sr. to intervene in northern Iraq
on behalf of the Kurds. He called Turkey ‘the natural protector of the
Kurds’ (Kürtlerin hamisi). He spoke several times of ‘federation’,
leaving his intentions ambiguous: some read into his words that he was
considering a federation of Turkey’s Kurdish and Turkish parts, but it is
more likely he was thinking of a federation between the ‘Kurdish entity’
in northern Iraq and Turkey, something that appeared to make good economic
The first explicit questioning of the Mosul settlement came from a group
of important Kurdish tribal chieftains, who called themselves ‘The Mosul
Vilayet Council’. They were chieftains who had not previously joined the
Kurdish nationalist movement but rather had stayed in an uneasy alliance
with the central government throughout the 1970s and 1980s and had been
pro-government militia commanders. In 1991 it was these chieftains, and
not the KDP and PUK, who had started the Kurdish uprising, and the parties
could only regain a measure of control by concluding alliances with them.
The Mosul Vilayet Council was established in 1992 and called for an act of
self-determination, on the basis of the provisions of League of Nations
recommendations that had never been carried out. The League had accepted
the inclusion of Mosul in Iraq on certain conditions (including Kurdish
education and a degree of self-government), but since these conditions had
not been met by the Independent Government of Iraq, the Mosul Vilayet
Council argued that the UN, as the successor to the League of Nations, had
to review the situation. They hired a Swiss law firm to represent their
claim in Geneva.
These chieftains, whose leader was Aziz Khidr Surchi of the large Surchi
tribe, represented a considerable force in Kurdistan. Several of them have
joined Surchi in establishing an independent party, the Kurdistan
In late 2002 the then Foreign Minister of Turkey, Yaşar Yakış, announced
that he had ordered his legal office to investigate whether there were
legal possibilities of re-opening the Mosul file. His successor has
refrained from any similar suggestion.
Although the Turkish foreign affairs establishment finds it extremely
difficult to even think of a different relationship between Turkey and the
Iraqi Kurds, the facts on the ground have changed and have already had an
effect on behaviour if not ideas. The economic development of Iraqi
Kurdistan has had a significant positive impact on the economy of eastern
Turkey – which became especially clear when the border was temporarily
closed at the time of the war. Although the Kurdish Regional Government is
not recognised, the two parties KDP and PUK have had liaison offices in
Ankara throughout the 1990s, and their representatives have had high-level
contacts with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Turkish Army’s General
Staff was involved in setting up Barzani’s Kurd TV satellite station (in
an effort to lessen the impact of PKK-affiliated Medya TV). Some
influential and well-connected journalists and businessmen in Turkey are
pleading for a different analysis of the situation and different policies
vis-à-vis northern Iraq. Ilnur Çevik, once one of the movers and shakers
of conservative-liberal politics, recently spoke out in favour of ‘a
Kurdish state umbilically bound to Turkey’, which he believed to be in the
country’s ultimate interest.
Who controls the Kurdish region?
Kurdish party spokesmen like to present Iraqi Kurdistan as a haven of
democracy but that should be taken with a grain of salt. The KDP and PUK
exert a degree of control of social, political and economic life as well
as security that is not unlike that of the Ba`th party under Saddam
Hussein. There is not much of an independent associational life, nor is
there a vibrant public sphere. The only significant independent medium is
the weekly newspaper Hawlati;
the daily press and television are almost completely controlled by the
parties. There is somewhat more pluralism in PUK-controlled Sulaymani than
elsewhere; a number of small parties of different ideological
orientations, from Marxism to Islam, are allowed to exist there and engage
in various activities.
Between 1994 and 1997, the KDP and PUK fought a civil war, resulting in a
strict separation of territory between them (see Map 1). Where prior to
the civil war both parties had existed throughout the Kurdish region,
though each with a strong regional concentration, after the war each
controlled one zone and did not allow the other’s activities there. Arbil
had been the joint capital, where the Kurdistan National Assembly
(parliament) and the Kurdish Regional Government had their seats; in 1996
the KDP, with some help from Saddam’s army, dislodged the PUK from Arbil.
The deputies and ministers of the KRG who were affiliated with the PUK
henceforth met in Sulaymani, so that to all purposes there were two
regional parliaments and two regional administrations. The PUK
complemented its administration with some representatives of other
currents, including the Islamic Movement of Iraqi Kurdistan (IMIK) and the
Kurdistan Conservative Party. IMIK, a non-violent Islamic party influenced
by Muslim Brotherhood ideology, also has a strong regional concentration
around Halabja. It contested the first free Kurdish elections in 1992 but
then remained slightly below the 7 per cent threshold so that it was not
represented in the original Arbil parliament.
The parties appear to have lost considerable popularity among the
population at large, in part because of the fratricidal war that they
fought, in part because of the flourishing corruption and favouritism, and
the incompetence of many officials who owed their appointments to tribal
or party affiliation only. Several months before the elections, 46 per
cent of the respondents in an opinion poll indicated that they would
prefer to vote for independent candidates rather than the established
parties. When the time to do so arrived, however, few people actually did
so (although there were independent candidates). The KDP and PUK had,
prior to the elections, re-united their parliaments and regional
governments and they took part in the 30 January elections with a combined
list that collected virtually all votes.
Electors in the Kurdish-controlled region voted in three separate
elections simultaneously (besides the unofficial referendum on
independence, which can be considered a fourth poll): for the Iraqi
National Assembly, for the governorate council (Duhok, Arbil, or Sulaymani),
and for the Kurdistan Regional Assembly. The usefulness of a united
Kurdish list in the election for the National Assembly — useful not only
to the Kurds themselves but also to their American patrons — was
self-evident for it gave them a major influence in the formation of the
new Iraqi government. With slightly over 25 per cent of all cast votes and
75 out of 275 seats in the Assembly, the Kurds became the one significant
check on Shi`a power in Iraq and are perhaps in the position to impose the
conditions under which they will re-integrate their region into Iraq.
The parties also came out with a joint list for the Regional Assembly, and
their control of the media had ensured that hardly anybody knew about
alternatives to this list, which received some 90 per cent of the votes.
The electorate has had no say in the composition of this list, and by
implication in the composition of the Kurdistan Regional Assembly. The
parties divided the seats equally among themselves, allotting a few seats
to minorities. In the new Kurdish regional government, both parties will
hold an equal number of ministries, with an additional three ministers
representing Islamist parties, one communist, one Assyrian and one
By the end of April, the new Regional Assembly had not yet been convened,
suggesting disagreement between the parties about the unification of the
Kurdish region. Negotiations about the composition of the Regional
Government were also continuing. The KDP and PUK had earlier agreed to one
major division of effort between them: the presidency of the Kurdish
region would fall to Masud Barzani with Nechirvan Barzani (Mas`ud’s nephew and ‘crown
prince’, who also controls much of the region’s economy) as the prime
minister, and Jalal
Talabani was to be the Kurds’ candidate for the presidency of the
entire country. This
made good sense: Arab Iraqis have long considered Talabani as the one
Kurdish leader who was willing to ‘discuss the Kurdish question in terms
of Iraqi politics and not as a purely Kurdish one’.
Talabani also made efforts to reassure Turkey that the Iraqi Kurds, in
spite of their desire for autonomy and a federal Iraq, knew and respected
Turkey’s concerns and were eager to improve bilateral relations.
Talabani’s inauguration as Iraq’s president was a major symbolic event,
even though the position is largely ceremonial and entails little real
power. A Kurdish nationalist has become the head of state in a country
that used to vie for leadership of the Arab world. Another Kurd was
confirmed as the country’s foreign minister: Hoshyar Zebari, who also held
this position in the interim government. Zebari is a close relative of the
Barzanis, so that both parties have senior-level representatives in Iraq’s
new leadership. This may persuade the Kurdish political elite that
re-integration into Iraq is a rewarding option — as long as it is in the
American interest to let the Kurds hold the balance in Baghdad. The
widespread desire for independence among the Kurdish population, however,
is unlikely to be silenced by such apparent Kurdish gains at the central
 Education at all levels, for instance, used
Kurdish instead of Arabic as the medium of instruction. A new generation
has grown up that speaks little or no Arabic and cannot read that
language. The same is true of the press, radio and television: in the
Kurdish region these are only in Kurdish (although there are some
Arabic-language media directed to other parts of the country).
 See the news reports of election day and, e.g., the commentary
by observer Peter W. Galbraith, “As Iraqis celebrate, the Kurds
hesitate”, The New York Times, 1 February 2005. The Democrat
Galbraith, former US Ambassador to Croatia, is the strongest supporter
of Kurdish claims in the American establishment.
 For a study of this period from a Kurdish point of view, see:
Ismet Cheriff Vanly, "Le Kurdistan d'Irak", in: Gérard Chaliand (ed.),
Les Kurdes et le Kurdistan, Paris: Maspéro, 1978, pp. 225-305
(English translation: A people without a country: the Kurds and
Kurdistan, London: Zed Books, 1980). A study more sympathetic to the
government’s point of view is: Edmund Ghareeb, The Kurdish question
in Iraq, Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1981.
 For a concise but good discussion of the autonomy law and its
implications, see: Helena Cook, The safe heaven in northern Iraq:
international responsibility for Iraqi Kurdistan, London: Kurdistan
Human Rights Project, 1995, pp. 23-33.
 The Anfal (‘Spoils’) campaign — named for the eighth
chapter of the Qur’an, which urges the Prophet and his companions to not
to turn their back on the enemy but continue the struggle — was a series
of military offensives, in many cases preceded by shelling with chemical
arms, directed at Kurdish rural districts that had been under control of
the Kurdish parties during the Iran-Iraq war. See: Martin van
Bruinessen, "Genocide of Kurds", in: Israel W. Charny (ed.), The
widening circle of genocide, New Brunswick, NY: Transaction
Publishers, 1994, pp. 165-191; Human Rights Watch / Middle East,
Iraq's crime of genocide: the Anfal campaign against the Kurds, New
Haven: Yale University Press, 1995.
 A detailed list of all destroyed villages, sub-district by
sub-district, and numbers of families deported was compiled by Shorsh
Mustafa Rasool, “Forever Kurdish: statistics of atrocities in Iraqi
Kurdistan”, privately published (distributed by the PUK representation
in Europe), 1990.
 Cf. International Crisis Group, "Iraq: Allaying Turkey's fears
over Kurdish ambitions" [Middle East Report No. 35], Amman/Brussels:
International Crisis Group, 26 January 2005.
 The Seljuqs were Turkish-speaking nomadic warriors who invaded
Iran from Central Asia in the 1040s and went on to conquer Baghdad and
finally Syria and Asia Minor in the 1070s. The Seljuq empire that they
established replaced the Abbasid caliphate; it was the first major state
established by a Turkic group in West Asia. Several later waves of
Turkic migrations followed. The Ottomans belonged to one of these later
waves; their empire began as a tiny princedom in western Asia Minor in
the fourteenth century, became the last great Muslim empire, and finally
collapsed after the First World War.
 The memoirs of British political officers who served in these
districts in the 1920s give an interesting insight in the relations
between Turkmen, Kurds and Arabs and in the Turkmen’s gradual loss of
their predominant position: W.R. Hay, Two years in Kurdistan.
Experiences of a political officer 1918-1920, London: Sidgwick &
Jackson Ltd, 1921; C. J. Edmonds, Kurds, Turks and Arabs. Politics,
travel and research in north-eastern Iraq, 1919-1925, London: Oxford
University Press, 1957; D.K. Fieldhouse (ed.), Kurds, Arabs &
Britons: the memoirs of Wallace Lyon in Iraq 1918-44, London: I.B.
 Edmonds, Kurds, Turks and Arabs, p. 266; Fieldhouse
(ed.), Kurds, Arabs and Britons, pp. 172, 220.
 The Talabanis are a large family, with branches in various
parts of southern Kurdistan. Dr. Nouri Talabany, the author of the most
forceful justification of Kurdish claims to Kirkuk (Arabization of
the Kirkuk region), is a descendant of the first shaykhs of this
family in Kirkuk. The nationalist politician, Jalal Talabani, belongs to
another branch of the family, based on Koy Sanjaq.
 On the position of two of these communities in recent times,
see: Michiel Leezenberg, "Between assimilation and deportation: the
Shabak and the Kakais in northern Iraq", in: K. Kehl-Bodrogi, B.
Kellner-Heinkele and A. Otter-Beaujean (ed.), Syncretistic religious
communities in the Near East, Leiden: Brill, 1997, pp. 175-194.
 “Question of the frontier between Turkey and Iraq: report
submitted to the Council by the commission instituted by the council
resolution of September 30th, 1924”, Geneva: League of Nations, 1925,
 A reasoned estimate claiming over 2 million Turkmen in 2002, is
given most recently by: Ershad al-Hirmizi, The Turkmen & Iraqi
homeland (N.p.: Kerkük Vakfı, 2003). This estimate is entirely based
on extrapolation from dubious old statistics and ‘reasonable’
 Kadir Mısıroğlu, Musul meselesi ve Irak
Türkleri [The Mosul Question and the Turks of Iraq], Istanbul: Sebil,
1985; Nefi Demirci, Dünden bugüne Kerkük (Kerkük'ün siyasi tarihi)
[Kirkuk from yesterday till today, the political history of Kirkuk],
Istanbul: privately published, 1990; Şevket Koçsoy, Irak Türkleri
[The Turks of Iraq], Istanbul: Boğaziçi Yayınları, 1991; Suphi Saatçı,
Tarihten günümüze Irak Türkmenleri [The Turkmen of Iraq, from the
earliest history to our days], Ankara: Ötüken, 2003.
 `Aziz Qadir al- Samanji, Al-ta'rikh al-siyasi
li-Turkman al-`Iraq [The political history of the Turkmen of Iraq].
Beyrut: Dar al-Saqi, 1999, p. 211; Ziyat Köprülü, Irak’ta Türk
varlığı [The Turkish presence in Iraq]. Ankara, privately
published, 1996, p. 65.
 Human Rights Watch / Middle East, Iraq's crime of genocide.
This concerns what the report calls the ‘third’ and ‘fourth Anfal’,
see the map on p. 16.
 An excellent description of how the uprisings began and were
organised, and of why they failed, is given by Faleh `Abd al-Jabbar,
"Why the Intifada failed", in: F. Hazelton (ed.), Iraq since the Gulf
War: Prospects for democracy, London: Zed Books, 1994, pp. 97-117.
 See the excellent and very detailed report by Human Rights
Watch, "Iraq: forcible expulsion of ethnic minorities", Human Rights
Watch Vol. 15 No. 3 (E), March 2003.
 The claim that the Kurds destroyed or seized all records of the
Kirkuk population and deeds and property registries is repeated in a
later document by the Iraqi Turkmen Human Rights Research Foundation,
which is close to the Iraqi Turkmen Front, “Attempts to change the
demographic structure of Kirkuk city by the American supported Kurds”,
17 September 2004. I have not been able to find confirmation or
otherwise of this claim.
 Iraqi Turkmen Human Rights Research Foundation, “ ‘US-made’ ”
Kerkuk City Council decides once again in favor of the Kurds’, report
dated 28 December 2004. This foundation consists of ‘independent’
Turkmen intellectuals abroad but appears affiliated with the Iraqi
Turkmen Front. Its reports as well as statements by various Turkmen
parties are conveniently posted on its website,
 Kıvanç Galip Över, Vaat edilmiş topraklarda ölüm kokusu:
Kuzey Irak dosyası [The smell of death over promised lands: the
North Iraq file]. Istanbul: Papirüs, 1999, pp. 42-44.
 Human Rights Watch, “Claims in conflict: reversing ethnic
cleansing in Northern Iraq”, Human Rights Watch, Vol. 16, No.
4(E), August 2004. The report notes that “although sporadic violence and
intimidation by Peshmerga forces did take place (…), Human Rights Watch
is not aware of a single massacre committed against Arab settlers by
returning Kurds or other minorities (…) an experience vastly different
from that of the Balkans, where bloodshed was routine during the various
‘ethnic cleansing’ campaigns” (p. 28).
 There is also a camp with some 4,200 Iranian Kurdish refugees
in central Iraq, near Ramadi. The UN issued a press release on 24
November 2004 stating that many of these refugees fled the camp because
of the fighting between US troops and Iraqi insurgents.
 Michiel Leezenberg, "Irakisch-Kurdistan seit dem Zweiten
Golfkrieg", in: C. Borck, E. Savelsberg and S. Hajo (ed.), Ethnizität,
Nationalismus, Religion und Politik in Kurdistan, Münster: Lit,
1997, pp. 45-78, esp. 73-74.
 On this period, see: Martin van Bruinessen, "The Kurds between
Iran and Iraq", MERIP Middle East Report 141 (1986), 14-27
[reprinted in idem, Kurdish ethno-nationalism versus nation-building
states. Collected articles, Istanbul: The Isis Press, 2000].
 International Crisis Group, "Iran in Iraq: how much influence?"
Amman/Brussels: International Crisis Group, 21 March 2005, pp. 20-21.
 International Crisis Group, "Iran in Iraq", pp. 20-21. The ICG
researchers consider it likely, in spite of official Iranian denials of
involvement and in spite of ideological differences with the Ansar,
that powerful circles in Iran support this radical Sunni group.
Otherwise, the report is quite sceptical about the frequent claims of
heavy Iranian involvement in Iraqi opposition to the American presence.
 Attention was drawn to Israeli intelligence and special
operations activities in Kurdistan in an article by Seymour Hersh in
The New Yorker of 28 June 2004 (“As June 30th approaches, Israel
looks to the Kurds”), based on conversation with American and Israeli
 Michael Rubin, “The PKK factor: Another critical enemy front in
the war on terror”. Dated 5 August 2004. Posted at:
http://www.benadorassociates.com/article/6378. A year earlier a
prominent British journalist had visited a PKK camp in the Qandil
mountains with an alleged 5,000 women guerrilla fighters: Jason Burke,
“Daughters of the revolution”, The Observer, 11 May 2003.
 The PKK has gone through a few confusing name changes during
the past years, apparently in an effort to get rid of the stigma of
association with terrorism. It first renamed itself KADEK (Kurdish
Freedom and Democracy Congress), then Kongra Gel (Nation’s Congress),
and most recently PKK again. These changes were not accompanied by any
noticeable changes in personnel or organisation. The group that broke
away from the Kongra Gel in August 2004 (Osman Öcalan and allies) named
its new formation the Patriotic Democratic Party (PDP).
 The story of the camp is told, from the Turkish point of view,
in: Över, Vaat edilmiş topraklarda, pp. 193-98.
 The Surchi tribe controls a large and prosperous area to the
north of Arbil, in the region over which the KDP claims control. The
Surchi , long-time rivals of the Barzani, tried to maintain a degree of
independence by cultivating relations with the PUK, for which they were
severely punished in 1996, when the KDP overran their central village
and killed the head of the leading family. The Kurdistan Conservative
Party was then no longer tolerated in the KDP region and had to operate
from the PUK region. It had one minister in the Regional Government at
Sulaymani. In February 2005 a ceremony of reconciliation of the KCP and
KDP took place prior to talks between the KDP and PUK leaders on the
formation of a new joint Kurdish government.
 Interviewed in Tempo Magazine, 11 November 2004.
 The Islamic Movement of Iraqi Kurdistan should not be
confounded with the more militant Ansar al-Islam and Jund al-Islam
groups, in which some former IMIK members are involved, along with
‘Afghan Arabs’ who fled Afghanistan after the American attack. On the
various Islamist groups in the region, see: Michiel Leezenberg, "Politischer
Islam bei den Kurden", Kurdische Studien 1/2, 2001, 5-38;
International Crisis Group, "Radical Islam in Iraqi Kurdistan: the mouse
that roared?" Amman/Brussels: International Crisis Group, 7 February
 Hawlati, 20 April 2005. The Islamist parties joining the
regional government are the Islamic Union of Kurdistan (2 positions) and
Komal, both of which have come out of the Islamic Movement of Iraqi
Kurdistan and both of which have good relations with the PUK and KDP.
 Thus the comments of a high Ba`th official who negotiated with
the Kurds as early as 1963, quoted in Sa`ad Jawad, Iraq and the
Kurdish question, 1958-1970, London: Ithaca Press, 1981, p. 111.