Military Wiki
First Kurdish–Iraqi War
Part of Iraqi-Kurdish conflict
Date11 September 1961-1970
LocationIraqi Kurdistan


  • Several Iraqi offensives intended to suppress the Kurdish rebellion fail[3]
  • Iraqi-Kurdish Autonomy Agreement
Before 1968:
Republic of Iraq
Syria Syrian Arab Republic[2]
After 1968:
Ba'athist Iraq
Commanders and leaders

Mustafa Barzani
Ibrahim Ahmad
Jalal Talabani
Omar Mustafa
Ali Askari

Kamal Mufti[1]

Abdul Karim Qasim (1958-1963)
Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr (1963)
Abdul Salam Arif (1963-1966)

Abdul Rahman Arif (1966-1970)
15-20,000[1] 48,000 Iraqi troops (1969);[4]
6,000 Syrian troops.[2]
Casualties and losses
unknown 10,000 Iraqi soldiers killed[5]
Total Casualties: 75,000[6]-105,000 killed[7]

First Kurdish–Iraqi War[1] or Barazani Rebellion was a major event of the Iraqi-Kurdish conflict, lasting from 1961 until 1970. The struggle was led by Mustafa Barzani, in an attempt to establish an independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq. Throughout the 1960s, the uprising escalated into a long war, which failed to resolve despite internal power changes in Iraq. During the war, 80% of the Iraqi army was engaged in combat with the Kurds.[8] The war ended with a stalemate in 1970, resulting in between 75,000[6] to 105,000 casualties.[7] A series of Kurdish-Iraqi negotiations followed the war in an attempt to resolve the conflict. The negotiations led to the Iraqi-Kurdish Autonomy Agreement of 1970.


After the military coup by Abdul Karim Qasim in 1958, Barzani was invited by Qasim to return from exile. As part of a deal arranged by Qasim and Barzani, Qasim promised to give the Kurds regional autonomy in return for Barzani's support for his policies. Meanwhile, during 1959–1960, Barzani became the head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), which was granted legal status in 1960.


Mustafa Barzani with Abd al-Karim Qasim.

By early 1960, it became apparent that Qasim would not follow through with his promise of regional autonomy. As a result, the KDP began to agitate for regional autonomy. In the face of growing Kurdish dissent, as well as Barzani's personal power, Qasim began to incite the Barzanis historical enemies, the Bradost and Zebari tribes, which led to inter-tribal warfare throughout 1960 and early 1961.

By February 1961, Barzani had defeated the pro-government forces and consolidated his position as leader of the Kurds. At this point, Barzani ordered his forces to occupy and expel government officials from all Kurdish territory. This was not received well in Baghdad, and as a result, Qasim began to prepare for a military offensive against the north to return government control of the region. Meanwhile, in June 1961, the KDP issued a detailed ultimatum to Qasim outlining Kurdish grievances and demanded rectification. Qasim ignored the Kurdish demands and continued his planning for war. It was not until September 10, when an Iraqi army column was ambushed by a group of Kurds, that the Kurdish revolt truly began. In response to the attack, Qasim lashed out and ordered the Iraqi Air Force to indiscriminately bomb Kurdish villages, which ultimately served to rally the entire Kurdish population to Barzani's standard.

Due to Qasim's profound distrust of the Iraqi Army, which he purposely failed to adequately arm (in fact, Qasim implemented a policy of ammunition rationing), Qasim's government was not able to subdue the insurrection. This stalemate irritated powerful factions within the military and is said to be one of the main reasons behind the Ba'athist coup against Qasim in February 1963.

After the failure of the Syrian political union with Egypt in 1961, Syria was declared an Arab Republic in the interim constitution. On 23 August 1962, the government conducted a special population census only for the province of Jazira which was predominantly Kurdish. As a result, around 120,000 Kurds in Jazira were arbitrarily categorized as aliens. In addition, a media campaign was launched against the Kurds with slogans such as Save Arabism in Jazira! and Fight the Kurdish threat!. These policies coincided with the beginning of Barzani's uprising in Iraqi Kurdistan and discovery of oilfields in the Kurdish inhabited areas of Syria. In June 1963, Syria took part in the Iraqi military campaign against the Kurds by providing aircraft, armoured vehicles and a force of 6,000 soldiers. Syrian troops crossed the Iraqi border and moved into the Kurdish town of Zakho in pursuit of Barzani's fighters.[2]

In November 1963, after considerable infighting amongst the civilian and military wings of the Ba'athists, they were ousted by Abdul Salam Arif in a coup. Then, after another failed offensive on Kurds, Arif declared a ceasefire in February 1964, which provoked a split among Kurdish urban radicals on one hand and Peshmerga forces, led by Barzani on the other. Barzani agreed to the ceasefire and fired the radicals from the party. Following the unexpected death of Arif, whereupon he was replaced by his brother, Abdul Rahman Arif, the Iraqi government launched a last-ditch effort to defeat the Kurds. This campaign failed in May 1966, when Barzani forces thoroughly defeated the Iraqi Army at the Battle of Mount Handrin, near Rawanduz. At this battle, it was said that the Kurds slaughtered an entire Iraqi brigade.[3] Recognizing the futility of continuing this campaign, Rahamn Arif announced a 12-point peace program in June 1966, which was not implemented due to the overthrow of Abdul Rahman Arif in a 1968 coup by the Baath Party.

The Ba'ath government restarted a campaign to end the Kurdish insurrection, which stalled in 1969. This can be partly attributed to the internal power struggle in Baghdad and also tensions with Iran. Moreover, the Soviet Union pressured the Iraqis to come to terms with Barzani.

Peace talks

A peace plan was announced in March 1970 and provided for broader Kurdish autonomy. The plan also gave Kurds representation in government bodies, to be implemented in four years.[9] Despite this, the Iraqi government embarked on an Arabization program in the oil rich regions of Kirkuk and Khanaqin in the same period.[10]


Some 105,000 people died during the war.[7]


In the following years, the Iraaqi government overcame its internal divisions and concluded a treaty of friendship with the Soviet Union in April 1972 and ended its isolation within the Arab world. On the other hand, Kurds remained dependent on the Iranian military support and could do little to strengthen their forces. By 1974 the situation in the north escalated again into the Second Kurdish Iraqi War, which lasted until 1975.

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Michael G. Lortz. (Chapter 1, Introduction). The Kurdish Warrior Tradition and the Importance of the Peshmerga. pp.39-42. [1]
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 I. C. Vanly, The Kurds in Syria and Lebanon, In The Kurds: A Contemporary Overview, Edited by P.G. Kreyenbroek, S. Sperl, Chapter 8, Routledge, 1992, ISBN 0-415-07265-4, pp.151-2
  3. 3.0 3.1 See Edgar O'Ballance, The Kurdish Revolt, 1961–1970; Kenneth M. Pollack, Arabs at War;
  4. [2]
  5. Joint intelligence analysis by the U.S. State Department, CIA and DIA from May 1, 1975 - The Implications of the Iran-Iraq agreement PDF (651 KB) .
  6. 6.0 6.1 [3]
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 [4]
  9. G.S. Harris, Ethnic Conflict and the Kurds, Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, pp.118–120, 1977
  10. "Introduction : GENOCIDE IN IRAQ: The Anfal Campaign Against the Kurds (Human Rights Watch Report, 1993)". Retrieved 2010-12-28. 

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