Iraqi Kurds in the Republic’s Early Years

Iraqi Kurds in the Republic’s Early Years

With the demise of the Hashemite monarchy, Kurdish nationalism in Iraq enjoyed a brief renaissance, though this was probably not foreseen by the generals, especially the Free Offi cers. The revolutionary government’s more liberal attitude toward political parties allowed, among others, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) to emerge from the shadows.

At this time, the KDP was led by Mulla Mustafa alBarzani as the party’s president, however al-Barzani’s background and outlook, that of a guerrilla leader, was much different than that of the urban intellectuals who had chosen him to lead the KDP.

As a result, intraparty rivalries, not to mention Kurdish tribal rivalries, occupied al-Barzani’s attention in the late 1950s. All of this was to the benefi t of General Qasim who was only too glad to pay lip service to Kurdish aspirations but preferred a weakened KDP (van Bruinessen 1992, 27).

As Qasim established his hold on the government, Iraqi nationalism became dominant over pan-Arabism, and this benefi ted the Kurds, who believed they had a better chance of achieving their own nationalist goals in an independent Iraq than if Iraq were part of the United Arab Republic.

Furthermore, since Iraq was drawing closer to the Soviet Union, al-Barzani, in 1961, hoped to exploit this new friendship by asking the USSR to intercede on behalf of the Kurds. This the Soviets refused to do, and Qasim, perhaps angered at al-Barzani’s perceived meddling, decided to foment further division among the Kurds by encouraging opposition tribes to rebel against al-Barzani.

In the end, the move backfi red against Qasim. The Iraqi military was soon drawn into what had been an intertribal war so that by the end of 1961, the Iraqi army was battling the Kurds’ determined insurrection. Qasim made another blunder vis-à-vis the Kurds when he outlawed the KDP. This played into al-Barzani’s hands by forcing a number (though not all) of his tribal opponents to join the insurrection. Perhaps because the fi ghting was done in the north, in Kurdish territory, the army failed to defeat the Kurdish guerrillas. This added fuel to the anti-Qasim fi res in Baghdad and led to his own political downfall and demise in 1963.