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Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP)

The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) is a largely tribal party based in the northern governerates of Dohuk and Arbil. Geography, politics and history have conspired to render 30 million Kurds the largest stateless people in the Middle East. With their state taken away from them by the Turks, the Kurds developed into permanent minorities in Turkey, Iraq, and Iran. In all three of these countries they founded political movements seeking varying degrees of autonomy with the same variety of results. The Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP), under the leadership of Mullah Mustalafa-al-Barzani, formed in 1946 inside the Soviet occupied land in Northern Iran. Mullah established a territory in this region called the Republic of Mahabad.

In northern Iraq, the Kurds took advantage of the expanding commerce in the 1960's resulting from Iran and Iraq's boom in the oil trade. The Kurd's dependency on the short land routes to Europe they held land on, increased as the Iraqi economy grew. In 1963 the Ba'ath party, led by Saddam Hussein, took control of Iraq. The Ba'ath, or as translated into English, renaissance movement did not confine itself to the nation of Iraq. Syria and Egypt also proposed embracing this movement calling for Arab nations to unite as one. This movement arrived at a time when the blame for failures of the Arab states fell upon corruption and Kurdish uprisings. These convictions led Ba'ath sympathizers in Iraq to continually seek the genocide of the Kurdish race. The arrest of a negotiating team from the KDP in June 1963 and the commencement military campaigns against the KDP forces by the Iraqi army validated these views.

With neither side achieving complete victory, Saddam Hussein suspended the seven years of bloody military operations with a negotiated deal with the KDP leadership. This agreement accepted the fact the Iraqi people consisted of two "primary" nationalities, the Arabs and the Kurds, and established the Kurdish language as the second national language of Iraq. Furthermore, it established an autonomous region to be formed within four years of the signing of the agreement. A failed assassination attempt of KDP leader General Mullah Mustafa Barzani, blamed first on the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) but later found to be the work of the Baghdad regime, caused the plans for a Kurdish state to deteriorate rapidly. The end of the four year period following the signing of the agreement came and went. Eventually, the best effort made by Baghdad effectively limited Kurdish autonomy to executive and legislative councils at the local level.

Infuriated, the KDP responded with guerrilla attacks on Iraqi government forces and installations with support by Iranian, US, and Israeli sources. The support conceived an overconfidence by the KDP to believe they would succeed in a conventional campaign against the Iraqi military. This assumption proved disastrously wrong, and the superior forces of Iraq drove the KDP forces across the Iranian border. Baghdad took further advantage of this victory by reducing Kurdish political influence in Iraq while relocating Kurdish people into a shrunken autonomous region.

After a long battle with lung cancer, the most prominent Kurdish national leader, Mulla Mustafa Barzani, President of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), died on Thursday, March 1, 1979, in Georgetown Hospital in Washington, DC at age of 75. He was buried in Iranian Kurdistan in Oshnavieh after his body was flown back from the United States. His son, Massoud Barzani, became the leader of the KDP.

On 21 September 1980, Baghdad turned its attention to the war started with Iran, and the KDP took advantage of the situation to side with Iran. Eventually Saddam, losing the war, needed to seek a separate peace with the KDP but failed. He then turned to the PUK in 1984 seeking a settlement and, in desperation, had to offer terms even more generous than those of the 1970 agreement with the KDP. But this too never reached ratification due to influence by the Turkish Prime Minister, whose country opposed the expansion of power to the Kurds. As a result, Baghdad broke off the talks and fighting resumed.

After Baghdad achieved victory over the Kurdish people in 1988, the Iraqi military continued to attack the Kurds in a campaign Baghdad dubbed "Anfal," based on the eighth Sura, or chapter, in the holy Quran meaning the "spoils of war." This campaign proved more ruthless than those conducted between 1964 and 1975. In addition to the demolished villages, firing squads, mass graves, and various other atrocities, the Iraqi military attacked the Kurds with poison gas in the town of Halabja. The attack occurred on 16 March 1988 with a deadly mixture of chemical weapons to include mustard gas, sarin, tabun, and VX nerve agent. These were delivered over a three day period and left over 5,000 dead and 30,000 injured. Halabja proved to be the largest, but not the only, Iraqi Kurdish town attacked with chemical weapons. The 24 years of campaigns against the Kurdish people by Iraq resulted in over 4,000 villages destroyed and as many a 250,000 Kurds reported killed.

In northern Iraq, all central government functions have been performed by local administrators, mainly Kurds, since the Government withdrew its military forces and civilian administrative personnel from the area after the 1991 uprising. A regional parliament and local government administrators were elected in 1992. This parliament last met in May 1995.

In May 1994 supporters of the PUK clashed with supporters of the KDP, leaving 300 people dead. Relations among the groups soured in March 1995 when the KDP backed out of an attack on Saddam's front lines led by Iraqi National Congress. Over the next year the PUK and KDP fought several more times, eventually devolving into a state of civil war. In August 1996, leaders of the KDP asked Iraqi president Saddam Hussein to intervene in the war. Hussein sent at least 30,000 troops into the UN-protected Kurdish region, capturing the PUK stronghold of Irbil. The KDP was immediately installed in power. The U.S. responded with two missile strikes against southern Iraq, but in early September Iraq again helped KDP fighters, this time taking the PUK stronghold of As Sulaymaniyah. After Saddam's move against them in 1996, about 700 Iraqi National Congress activists and fighters were evacuated to the US, along with 6,000 pro-Western Iraqi Kurds.

In northern Iraq, fighting continued in 1997 between the KDP and the PUK. In addition, attacks on civilians by the Turkish Kurd terrorist organization, the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), resulted in many deaths, particularly among the vulnerable Assyrian minority and villagers who supported the KDP. Turkish forces entered Iraq several times during the year to combat the PKK. These separate conflicts converged in November, when Turkish air and ground elements joined the KDP to force the PUK and the PKK to return to the established intra-Kurdish ceasefire line. The fighting left over a thousand persons dead and forced thousands of civilians from their homes. A ceasefire established on 24 November 1997 ended the fighting for the remainder of the year, albeit with a few sporadic clashes.

The KDP estimated that 58,000 KDP supporters were expelled from Suleymaniyah and other PUK-controlled areas from October 1996 to October 1997; the PUK says that more than 49,000 of its supporters were expelled from Irbil and other KDP-controlled areas from August 1996 through December 1997. The U.N. reports that more than 10,000 persons were forced from their homes when fighting broke out between the Kurdish factions along their cease-fire line in October 1997.

The United Nations has documented over 16,000 cases of persons who have disappeared in the Iraqi sector of Kurdistan. According to the Special Rapporteur, most of these cases occurred during the Anfal Campaign. He estimates that the total number of Kurds who disappeared during Anfal could reach the tens of thousands. Human Rights Watch estimates that the total at between 70,000 and 150,000, and Amnesty International (AI) at more than 100,000.

In early June 2004 Iraq's interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said that most of the country's powerful militias had agreed to disarm. Their members would either join state-controlled security services, or return to civilian life. Nine militias with a total of some 100,000 fighters agreed to disband under the deal. The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Democratic Party together field some 75,000 fighters known as peshmerga. About half of the peshmerga will join the national army or police forces but that thousands of others will join Kurdish-controlled regional forces. Those forces are three specialized units -- mountain troops, counterterrorist forces, and quick-reaction battalions -- under the command of the Kurdish regional government that controls northern Iraq.

Masoud Barzani was elected as the President of Iraqi Kurdistan in June 2005 in addition to his position as the leader of the KDP. Barzani welcomed American troops into the Kurdish reagion as liberators of the Iraqi people. However, part of the success of American troops in Kurdish Iraq may be attributed to the fact that the region has already been considered semi-autonomous. As per an interview conducted by Judith Miller for the Wall Street Journal Editorial Page, Brazani believed Baghdad should be the federal capital while other regions in Iraq should be allowed to run their own affairs or be separate.

In 2005, reports of corruption within both the leading political parties in the Iraqi Kurdish region emerged. Reports attribute this corruption to the lack of a consitution in Kurdistan that allows for political leaders to exercise unchecked and arbitrary power without accountability. Nepotism also purportedly plays a role in the KDP as the prime minister is the nephew of the president and the President's son, Masrour Barzani, was head of the local intelligence service and another son held the position of commander of the Special Forces.

Controvery arose in 2007 between Barzani and Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan over the issue of Iraq's oil-rich city of Kirkuk, which is viewed as an economic and political stronghold for Iraqi Kurdistan. According to an article in the International Harald Tribune, Barzani issued warnings towards Turkey to not to get involved in discussions over the future of Kirkuk. Any such involvement and Barzani said that Iraqi Kurds would interfere in Kurdish southeastern Turkey. These threats were not well received by Erdogan who suggested that there would be a price to pay if Iraqi Kurds were to involve themselves in southeastern Turkey.

Barzani visited Turkey in April 2012 in a deepening of relations built on trade and growing shared regional interests. But the unrest in Syria posed both a challenge and opportunity for the two parties. With Syrian Kurds making up a large part of the rebel group PKK, the Syrian crisis poses a dilemma to Ankara. The Barzani visit was described in the Turkish media as akin to an official state visit by a leader of a country. In the past few years, relations had dramatically improved between the Turkish government and the Iraqi Kurdish leader. Some time ago he was considered as a local bandit. Now he is considered as a statesman. The main tie is economic, and Turkish industrialists and tradesmen are very busy and very active.

Barzani visited Baghdad in July 2013 for the first time in more than two years, in a symbolic step to resolve disputes between the central government and the autonomous region over land and oil. The visit followed an equally rare trip by Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki who met Barzani in Kurdistan in June. There were no breakthroughs.

By June 2014, Barzani was cautious about cooperating with the Baghdad forces, saying it was impossible to fight the militants, "without a clear future, a complete agreement and a complete political solution."

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Page last modified: 02-07-2014 19:21:17 ZULU