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Uprising in Sulaymaniyah
Part of 1991 uprisings in Iraq
Date5 March – 3 April 1991
LocationSulaymaniyah, Iraq

Iraqi government victory

  • Mass exodus of civilians
  • Rebels re-take town months later
Sulaymaniyah is taken by rebels, then re-taken by Iraqi forces. Months later, rebels re-take the town again.

 Iraqi government

Iraqi Kurdistan Peshmerga

  • Patriotic Union of Kurdistan
  • Kurdistan Democratic Party
  • Brigades of the Council Movement [1]
  • Deserters from the Jash
Commanders and leaders
Iraq Saddam Hussein
Iraq Ali Hassan al-Majid Masoud Rajavi

Jalal Talabani
Nawshirwan Mustafa
Massoud Barzani

Osman Hajy Marouf [1]
Casualties and losses

Unknown, estimated ~700 executed

~17,000 KIA [2]
~6,000 KIA

The 1991 uprising in Sulaymaniyah was one of biggest 1991 uprisings in Iraq. Sulaymaniyah, a Kurdish city of over 100,000 population was the first Iraqi city to be captured by rebels and the last one to fall.[2]


Since the autonomy agreement collapsed in 1974, Kurds had been fighting an armed insurgency against Saddam's regime. After the Gulf War heavily damaged the Iraqi military and an uprising began in Southern Iraq. After Jash (Kurdish militia used by Saddam Hussein's regime to fight Peshmerga) deserters, seized control of the city of Raniya with support of the local population, many of which turned into overnight Peshmerga. The revolutionary feeling spread to the rest of Kurdistan, were people took to the streets and Peshmerga entered the cities and seized control of Raniya, Chawar Qurna, Koi-Sanjaq, Sulaymaniya, Halabja, Arbat, Arbil, Duhuk, Zahku and Kirkuk.[3]


Peshmerga offensive

The uprising started on 7 March as lightly armed Peshmerga entered the city and oustered government forces. The Peshmerga were joined by local civilians who took the streets and helped the Peshmerga launch a mass-assault on all government buildings and detention centers, freeing hundreds of political prisoners.[2]

The last and biggest point of resistance by the Iraqi security forces was the Security Directorate, at the heavily fortified building. Ba'athist forces fought off the Kurds for over 2 hours after which Kurdish Peshmerga and rioters entered the building, by 8 March the entire city was under peshmerga control. Many Ba'athists which were captured were torn to pieces, alive, by the angry crowds, others were burned or cut to pieces with saws. According to Human Rights Watch, an estimated 700 security Ba'athists were killed in such executions by the people, but regular soldiers were mostly pardoned and were allowed to return home.[2]

Government counter offensive

After the defeat of rebels in the South and the fall of all Southern cities to Iraqi security forces, the Iraqi government turned north were they deployed aircraft, heavy artillery and tanks to confront the Peshmerga. With food shortage and no international backing the peshmerga where out manned and out gunned with over three quarters of the Iraqi army on the out skirts of sulaymaniyah and only 20,000 peshmerga protecting the city, heavy fighting occurred around the outskirts. The peshmerga eventually retreated back into central sulaymaniyah after putting up a 10 day long assault by over 90,000 Iraqi troops, tanks and aircraft. Casualties where heavy on both sides with the peshmerga losing 6,000 of its already small out gunned army of 20,000 however because the Iraqi army lacked tactical training they suffered dramatic defeats and lost nearly 17,000 troops .[3]

Kurdish refugees camp sites along Turkey-Iraq border, 1991

On 31 March, the government offensive started. The city was attacked from the West and the neighborhoods of Bakhtiari and Rizjari where many of the cities civilians lived. the district of Azadi was also hit by heavy shelling and by helicopter bombings. On 1 April, Peshmerga forces went for a tactical attack on Iraqi tanks over the hills on Bakhtiari destroying a quarter of the Iraqi army's tanks in the process, however by 2 April, Peshmerga called on the civilians to evacuate the town and flee North before the military entered. In a last gasp to hold on their grip on the city, the Peshmerga launched the suicidal Shahid Mahmood offensive where they crushed several lines of Iraqi infantrymen, and by the end of 2 April had successfully captured the Sannandj road, and in order for the Peshmerga to avoid elimination, the remaining Peshmerga retreated back into Mount Qandil. By 3 April, the military took control of the city, which had turned into a ghost town as all civilians had fled in fear of government reprisals. The city therefore also remained relatively intact, although it was hit by heavy looting by Iraqi soldiers.[2]


After many Kurds had returned to their homes, in July the Peshmerga decided to confront the Iraqi Army again. On 20 July, the KDP and PUK Peshmerga launched a joint assault on the cities of Arbil, Dohuk and Sulaymaniyah. By October 1991, a cease-fire was signed, the government leaving the Peshmerga in control of some 16,000 km² of Iraqi land. This area became a de facto Kurdish state within Iraq and was completely blockaded by Saddam Hussein and cut off from the rest of the country.[2][3]

See also


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