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Iraqi–Kurdish conflict
Kurdish refugees in camp sites along the Turkey-Iraq border, 1991.jpg
Kurdish refugees in camp sites along the Turkey-Iraq border, 1991
Date1918[1] – 2003[1]
(main phase: 1961–1991)
LocationIraqi Kurdistan

Kurdish victory

  • Iraqi withdrawal from Kurdish territory in 1991; Kurds gain de facto independence
  • Kurdish Civil War with from 1994 to 1998 with Iraqi involvement in 1995
  • Peshmerga assist coalition forces during 2003 invasion of Iraq; overthrow of Ba'ath regime
  • Kurdistan Regional Government recognised by the Iraqi central government in 2005
  • Ongoing tensions between Iraqi Kurdistan and Iraqi central government

Kingdom of Kurdistan

Iraqi Kurdistan Peshmerga:

  • KDP
  • PUK
  • PKK

Iraq INC
File:Icpsymbol.PNG ICP
SCIRI Supported by:
 Iran (1980-1988)

Enforcing No-Fly Zone per UNSC Resolution 688:

Iraq Mandatory Iraq

Iraq Kingdom of Iraq

Iraq Iraq

Iran MKO

Commanders and leaders

Flag of kurdistan-1922 1924.svg Mahmud Barzanji

Ahmed Barzani

Mustafa Barzani
Idris Barzani
Massoud Barzani
Babakir Zebari
Jalal Talabani
Ibrahim Ahmad
Nawshirwan Mustafa
Mama Risha
Uthman Abd-Asis
Abdullah Öcalan
Murat Karayılan
Iraq Ahmad Challabi
File:Icpsymbol.PNG Aziz Muhammad
Iran Mohsen Rezaee
Iran Ali Sayad Shirazi
Abdul Aziz al-Hakim

United States John Shalikashvili

Iraq Faisal I of Iraq

Iraq Faisal II of Iraq

Abdul Karim Qasim
Iraq Abdul Salam Arif
Iraq Abdul Rahman Arif
Iraq Tahir Yahya
Iraq Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr
Iraq Saddam Hussein
Iraq Ali Hassan al-Majid
Iraq Taha Yasin
Iraq Izzat Ibrahim ad-Douri
Iraq Tariq Aziz
Iraq Saddam Kamel
Iraq Qusay Hussein
Iraq Uday Hussein
Iran Massoud Rajavi
Iran Maryam Rajavi
Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou

Syria Luai al-Atassi

Iraqi Kurdistan Peshmerga:
15-20,000 (1962)[2][3]
6,000 (1970)[4]
50-60,000 (1974)[5]
5,000 (1980)[6]
100,000 (1991)[7]

70,000 (2003)[8]

Iraq Military of Iraq
48,000 (1969)[9]
90,000 (1974)[9]
180,000 (1978)[10]
300,000 (1980)[11]
1,000,000 (1988)[11]
382,500 (1992)[12]

424,000 (2002)[13]
Casualties and losses
139,000-320,000 killed[a]
Millions of Kurds displaced and turned refugees

The Iraqi–Kurdish conflict consists of a series of wars and rebellions by the Kurds against the central authority of Iraq, which began shortly after the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War I and lasting until the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.[1] Some put the marking point of the conflict beginning to the attempt by Mahmud Barzanji to establish an independent Kingdom of Kurdistan,[1] while others relate to the conflict as only the post-1961 insurrection by the Barzanis.[14] The conflict lasted until the U.S. invasion to Iraq in 2003, though tensions between the Kurdish autonomy and the central Iraqi government have continued.

The first chapter of the Kurdish-Iraqi dispute followed the end of World War I and the arrival of the British forces. Mahmud Barzanji began secession attempts in 1919 and in 1922 proclaimed the short-living Kingdom of Kurdistan. Though Mahmud's insurrections were defeated, another Kurdish sheikh - Ahmed Barzani began to actively oppose the central rule of the Mandatory Iraq during the 1920s. The first of the major Barzani revolt took place in 1931, after Barzani, one of the most prominent Kurdish leaders in Northern Iraq, succeeded in defeating a number of other Kurdish tribes.[15] He ultimately failed and took refuge in Turkey. The next serious Kurdish secession attempt was made by Ahmed Barzani's younger brother - Mustafa Barzani in 1943, but the revolt failed as well, resulting in exile of Mustafa to Iran, where he participated in the attempt to form the Kurdish Republic of Mahabad.

In 1958, Mustafa Barzani and his fighters returned to Iraq from exile, and an attempt was made to negotiate a Kurdish autonomy in the north with the new Iraqi regime of Qasim. The negotiations ultimately failed and the First Kurdish-Iraqi War erupted on 11 September 1961,[14] lasting until 1970 and inflicting 75,000-105,000 casualties. Despite the attempts to resolve the conflict by providing Kurds with a recognized autonomy in North Iraq (Iraqi Kurdistan), the negotiations failed in 1974, resulting in resumed hostilities, known as the Second Kurdish-Iraqi War, which resulted in collapse of the Kurdish militias and reconquest of northern Iraq by Iraqi government troops. As a result, Mustafa Barzani and most of KDP leadership fled to Iran, while PUK gained power in the vacuum, leading an insurgency campaign against the central Iraqi government. Since 1976, PUK and KDP relations quickly deteriorated, reaching the climax in April 1978, when PUK troops suffered a major defeat by KDP, which had the support of Iranian and Iraqi air forces.

The conflict re-emerged as part of the Iran-Iraq War, with the Kurdish parties collaborating against Saddam Husein, and KDP also gaining military support by the Islamic Republic of Iran. By 1986, Iraqi leadership grew tired of the strengthening and non-loyal Kurdish entity in North Iraq and began a genocidal campaign, known as Al-Anfal, to oust the Kurdish fighters and take revenge on the Kurdish population - an act often described as the Kurdish genocide, with an estimated 50,000-200,000 casualties. In the aftermath of the Persian Gulf War, a series of uprisings shattered Iraq, but only the Kurds succeeded in achieving a status of unrecognized autonomy within one of the Iraqi no-fly zones, established by the U.S.-led coalition. In the mid-1990s, the conflict between the KDP and PUK erupted once again, resulting in a bloody civil war, which ended in 1997. The most valuable gains of the Kurds occurred between 2003 and 2005, when the Hussein regime was toppled as part of the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the Kurdish autonomy finally gained recognition by the new Iraqi government. Despite the mutual recognition, the relations between Iraqi Kurdistan and the Iraqi central government grew strained between 2011 and 2012 due to power sharing issues and the export of oil.

Early conflicts

Mahmud Barzanji (1919-1924)

Mahmud Barzanji revolts were a series of armed uprisings against the British forces in the newly conquered Mesopotamia and later the British Mandate in Iraq. Following his first insurrection in May 1919, Sheykh Mahmud was imprisoned and eventually exiled to India for a one year period. When returning, he was once again appointed a governor, but shortly revolted again declaring himself as the ruler of the Kingdom of Kurdistan. The Kingdom of Kurdistan lasted from September 1922 - July 1924.[16] With British forces greatly exceeding his in ammunition and training, the defeat finally subdued the region to central British Iraqi rule in 1924. Sheykh Mahmud retreated into mountains, and eventually reached terms with the independent Kingdom of Iraq in 1932, over his return from the underground. Shaykh Mahmud revolts are considered the first chapter of the modern Iraqi-Kurdish conflict.

1931 Kurdish revolt

Ahmed Barzani revolt refers to the first of the major Barzani revolts, taking place in 1931 after Ahmed Barzani, one of the most prominent Kurdish leaders in Southern Kurdistan, succeeded in unifying a number of other Kurdish tribes.[15] The Barzan forces were eventually overpowered by Iraqi Army with British support, forcing the leaders of Barzan to go underground.

Ahmed Barzani was later forced to flee to Turkey, where he was held in detention and then sent to exile in the south of Iraq. Although initially a tribal dispute, the involvement of the Iraqi government inadvertently led to the growth of Shaykh Ahmad and Mulla Mustafa Barzani as prominent Kurdish leaders.[17] Throughout these early conflicts, the Barzanis consistently displayed their leadership and military prowess, providing steady opposition against the fledgling Iraqi military. It is speculated, that exile in the major cities exposed the Barzanis to the ideas of urban Kurdish nationalism.

1943 Kurdish revolt

The 1943-1945 Kurdish revolt in Iraq was a Kurdish nationalistic insurrection in the Kingdom of Iraq, during WWII. The revolt was led by Mustafa Barzani and later joined by his older brother Ahmed Barzani, the leader of the previous Kurdish revolt in the Kingdom of Iraq. The revolt, initiating in 1943, was eventually put down by the Iraqi assault in late 1945, combined with the defection of a number of Kurdish tribes. As a result, the Barzanis retreated with much of their forces into Iranian Kurdistan, joining the local Kurdish elements in establishing the Republic of Mahabad.

Main Phase

Negotiations over Kurdish autonomy (1958-1960)

After the military coup by Abdul Karim Qasim in 1958, Mustafa Barzani was invited by the new Iraqi President Qasim to return from exile, and was greeted with a "hero's welcome", as a former dessident to the now abolished Iraqi monarchy. As part of the deal arranged between Qasim and Barzani, Qasim had 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.

First Kurdish-Iraqi War (1961-1970)

First Kurdish–Iraqi War[18] 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 independent Kurdish state in north Iraq. Throughout the 1960s, the uprising escalated into a long war, which failed to resolve despite internal power changes in Iraq. The war ended with a stalemate by 1970, resulting in between 75,000[19] to 105,000 casualties.[20] A series of Kurdish-Iraqi negotiations followed the war in an attempt to resolve the conflict.

Cease-Fire (1970-1974)

A Kurdish Autonomy agreement was reached in March 1970 by the Iraqi government and the Kurds, in the aftermath of the First Kurdish-Iraqi War, for the creation of an Autonomous Region, consisting of the three Kurdish governorates and other adjacent districts that have been determined by census to have a Kurdish majority. The plan also gave Kurds representation in government bodies, to be implemented in four years.[21] For its time it was the most serious attempt to resolve the long-running Kurdish-Iraqi conflict.

Second Kurdish-Iraqi War (1974-1975)

Second Kurdish–Iraqi War was an offensive, led by Iraqi forces against rebel KDP troops of Mustafa Barzani during 1974-1975. The war came in the aftermath of the First Kurdish Iraqi War (1961-1970), as the 1970 peace plan for Kurdish autonomy had failed to be implemented by 1974. Unlike the previous guerilla campaign, waged by Barzani, the 1974 war was an attempt for symmetric warfare against the Iraqi Army, which eventually led to the quick collapse of the Kurds, lacking advanced and heavy weaponry. The war ended with the exile of the Iraqi KDP and between 7,000-20,000 mortal casualties from both sides combined.

Arabization of Iraqi Kurdistan and PUK insurgency (1976-1979)

The PUK insurgency was a low-level militant campaign by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) against the state of Iraq, after the defeat of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) in the Second Kurdish–Iraqi War, which forced the KDP organization to declare a ceasefire and move into exile. Due to lack of foreign support, however, the guerrillas were only able to operate in the highest regions of Iraqi Kurdistan's mountains.[22] The PUK also faced the KDP, the KDPI, led by Abdul Rahman Ghassemlou, and Iran supporting the Iraqis at various occasions. The insurgency dimmed with the 1979 Kurdish rebellion in Iran.

Kurdish rebellion during the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988)

Iraqi political crackdown (1988-1991)

Kurdish uprising (1991)

Later phase

Kurdish Civil War (1994-1997)

The Iraqi Kurdish Civil War was a military conflict, which took place between rival Kurdish factions in Iraqi Kurdistan in the mid-1990s, most notably the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan vs. the Kurdistan Democratic Party. Over the course of the conflict, Kurdish factions from Iran and Turkey, as well as Iranian, Iraqi and Turkish forces were drawn into the fighting, with additional involvement from the American forces. Between 3,000 to 5,000 fighters and civilians were killed throughout more than 3 years of warfare.

2003 Invasion of Iraq

Arriving in July 2002 to Iraqi Kurdistan, the CIA seldom worked with the peshmerga, despite their claim to be on a counterterrorism mission against Ansar al-Islam. To the disappointment of PUK peshmerga intent on destroying Ansar al-Islam, the true mission of the CIA was to acquire intelligence about the Iraqi government and military. CIA-peshmerga operations eventually went beyond the scope of intelligence gathering however, as PUK peshmerga were used to destroy key rail lines and buildings prior to the U.S. attack in March 2003.[23] Following Turkey's decision to deny any official use of its territory, the Coalition was forced to modify the planned simultaneous attack from north and south.[24] Special Operations forces from the CIA and US Army managed to build and lead the Kurdish Peshmerga into an effective force and assault for the North.

On March 20, 2003 at approximately 02:30 UTC or about 90 minutes after the lapse of the 48-hour deadline, at 05:33 local time, explosions were heard in Baghdad, signing the beginning of the U.S. led invasion. Beginning on 21 March 2003, U.S. forces launched Tomahawk missiles at selected Ansar al-Islam positions throughout the Sargat Valley. In preparation for the ground assault, nicknamed Operation Viking Hammer, Tovo divided his forces into six mixed peshmerga-Special Forces units. The peshmerga in two of these teams refused to contribute to the assault for various reasons including having lost too many personnel in previous fighting.[23] The peshmerga who did fight were once again armed with AK-47s, rocket-propelled grenades, and other assorted weapons.

Despite their well-armed adversaries, during the operation only 24 peshmerga were killed in the fighting, compared to an enemy body count of over 300.[23]


2011-2012 tensions

Tensions between Iraqi Kurdistan and the central Iraqi government mounted through 2011-2012 on the issues of power sharing, oil production and territorial control.[25] On April 2012, the president of Iraq’s semi-autonomous northern Kurdish region demanded that officials agree to their demands or face consequences of a secession from Baghdad by September 2012.[26]

On September 2012, Iraqi government ordered the KRG to transfer its powers over Peshmerga to the central government and the relations strained further by the formation of a new command center (Tigris Operation Command) for Iraqi forces to operate in a disputed area over which both Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) claim jurisdiction.[27]

On 16 November 2012, a military clash between the Iraqi forces and the Peshmerga resulted in one person killed.[27] CNN reported that 2 people were killed (one of them an Iraqi soldier) and 10 wounded in clashes at the Tuz Khurmato town.[28]

On the night of November 19, it was reported that clashes between security forces of the central Iraqi government and the KRG forces in Tigrit left 12 Iraqi soldiers and one civilian dead, according to Doğan news agency.[29] The clash erupted when Iraqi soldiers attempted to enter northern Iraq; peshmargas tried to prevent the Iraqi soldiers from entering the area upon Barzani’s instructions.[29] There was no confirmation of the event.

On November 25, it was reported that Iraqi Kurdistan sent reinforcements to a disputed area, where its troops are "involved in a standoff with the Iraqi army", despite calls on both sides for dialogue to calm the situation.[30]

On December 11, Iraqi Kurdistan President Massoud Barzani, dressed in a military uniform, visited Kurdish-controlled areas of Kirkuk, a city long seen as a flashpoint for Arab-Kurdish tensions after the US military withdrawal in December 2011.[31] Following Massoud Barzani's visit of Kurdish troops stationed in the disputed area near Kirkuk, Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki's party - The State of Law issued a statement that "the visit of the President of Kurdistan Region Massoud Barzani and his son wearing a military helmet to inspect the battlefronts in Kirkuk province is a ‘declaration of war’ on all Iraqis not only Maliki, and even on President Jalal Talabani".[32]


[a].^ Iraqi–Kurdish conflict (combined casualty figure 138,800-320,100):

Mahmud Barzanji revolts (1919-1924) - unknown
Ahmed Barzani revolt (1931-1932) - hundreds killed
1943 Barzani revolt (1943-1945) - hundreds killed
First Kurdish-Iraqi War (1961-1970) - 12,000-105,000 killed.[33]
Second Kurdish-Iraqi War (1974-1975) - 9,000 killed.[34]
PUK insurgency (1976-1978)- 800 killed.
Iraqi Kurdish uprising (1982-1988) - 50,000-198,000 killed.
1991 Uprising in As Sulaymaniyah - 700-2,000 killed.
Iraqi Kurdish Civil War (1994-1997) - 3,000[35]-5,000 killed
2003 invasion of Iraq (Operation Viking Hammer) - 300 Islamists killed, at least 24 Peshmerga killed;[23] unknown number of Iraqi agents "eliminated".

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 [1] "The Iraqi State and Kurdish Resistance, 1918‐2003"
  2. Kenneth M. Pollack, Arabs at War: Military Effectiveness 1948-91, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London, 2002, p.157, ISBN 0-8032-3733-2
  3. Page 39
  4. Page 47
  5. Page 48
  6. Page 54
  7. Page 59
  8. Page 24
  9. 9.0 9.1 "Iraq's armed forces". 2008. ISBN 9780415400787.,000+1969#v=onepage&q=Iraq%2060%2C000%201969&f=false. 
  11. 11.0 11.1 "Iran–Iraq War (1980–1988)". (John Pike). 
  12. IRAQ OVERVIEW (page 17)
  13. Iraq and The Conventional Military Balance
  14. 14.0 14.1 Heo U.K. and Derouen K. CIVIL WARS OF THE WORLD. P.445
  15. 15.0 15.1 The Kurdish Minority Problem, p.11, Dec. 1948, ORE 71-48, CIA [2].
  16. Prince, J. (1993), "A Kurdish State in Iraq" in Current History, January.
  17. Lortz, Michael G. "The Kurdish Warrior Tradition and the Importance of the Peshmerga", Willing to face Death: A History of Kurdish Military Forces - the Peshmerga - from the Ottoman Empire to Present-Day Iraq, 2005-10-28. Chapter 1
  18. Michael G. Lortz. (Chapter 1, Introduction). The Kurdish Warrior Tradition and the Importance of the Peshmerga. pp.39-42. [3]
  21. G.S. Harris, Ethnic Conflict and the Kurds, Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, pp.118–120, 1977
  22. Galbraith, Peter (2006), The End of Iraq: How American Incompetence Created a War without End; Simon and Schuster. ISBN 0-7432-9423-8
  23. 23.0 23.1 23.2 23.3 Willing to face Death: A History of Kurdish Military Forces – the Peshmerga – from the Ottoman Empire to Present-Day Iraq (page 67), Michael G. Lortz
  24. Operation Hotel California: The Clandestine War inside Iraq, Mike Tucker, Charles Faddis, 2008, The Lyons Press.
  27. 27.0 27.1
  29. 29.0 29.1
  32. Al-Monitor
  35. Jordi Tejel. Syria's Kurds: history, politics and society. 2009. p.156.

Additional reading

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