News reports today say that Peshmerga forces will take over security of Kurdistan region
in an agreement with the Iraqi government.
That probably doesn't mean much to you - but it should. The very last sentence in the article is a clue as to why:
Peshmerga forces have many times in the past fought against the ruling regimes in Baghdad.
Who are the "Peshmerga"
? Quite simply they are "a member of a Kurdish guerilla organization that fights for a free Kudish state." In the Kurdish language it means "those who face death."
The second clue is the fact that Kurdistan has actually banned
flying the flag of Iraq.
But none of this should be any surprise at all for those who know the basics of Iraqi history. For those of you who don't, sit back, kick off your shoes, and prepare to learn about the rise, fall, and final rise of the Baathists and The Great Kurdish-Iraq War.
This is Part Seven of my huge ongoing series about the History of Iraq. If you haven't already seen them you can find parts Six, Five, Four, Three, Two, and One at the links listed.
I left off parts five and six in 1963 with the rise of the Baathists in a bloody CIA-sponsored coup, the torture and executions of Iraq's communist party, and the end of Iraq's first and only Republic. The Baathists came to power despite the fact that most of the army didn't support them, and almost no one on Iraqi streets did. The Baathist's base of support was murderous fascists, American and British politicians, and little else.
However, the Baathists had one other element working against them - their only unifying element was hatred of the now dead Abdul Karim Qassim. That unifying element was now gone and the Baathists suddenly learned that their lust for power was not enough to hold together their shaky iron-fisted government.
The Rise and Fall of the Baath
(Click for larger image)
Of all the Iraqi leaders, few had such dramatic ups-and-downs in their career as Abdul-Salam Arif (grand-nephew of King Faisal I).
was Qassim's right-hand man during the 1958 Revolution, but later plotted against Qassim (partly because of ideological reasons) and was sentenced to death in 1959. Qassim pardoned him in late 1962 and by February 1963 Abdul-Salam was leading the Baathist coup which ended Qassim's life.
The Baathist military leadership awarded Abdul-Salam the presidency for his help, but the real power was kept in the National Council for Revolutionary Command (NCRC), composed of civilian and military leaders. The premiership was entrusted to Colonel Ahmad Hassan al-Bakr
, a Ba'thist officer.
Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr
Ahmed Hassan was another character with a mercurial career. He had a promising career until he took part in the Golden Square Coup in 1941 (see Part Four
of this series). The following British invasion ended that career, but he was reinstated in 1957. He then took part of the 1958 Revolution with Qassim, but it only took him a single year before he was part of the first coup attempt against Qassim in 1959. That failure ended his career again. But now he was back with another coup in early 1963 - a coup that he said
"used an American locomotive".
Some Baath leaders wanted to carry out a socialist agenda, but other advised caution and a transitional agenda was agreed to. The program stressed economic development. However, when Baath Party infighting breaks out in November of 1963 between pro and anti-communist factions, Abdul-Salam Arif mobilizes the military behind him and purges the government of Baathists in a November 18th bloodless countercoup.
After just 10 months, the Baath party has been pushed out of the Iraqi government.
The Arif Government
To put it simply, the Arif government was all about Arif.
Few political institutions were established. No parliament was created, and few political parties were tolerated. Arif's power depended mainly on support from army officers (less so after Sept. 1965), government officials, and friends and relatives who were appointed to high positions.
Many Baath leaders were arrested. Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr was pushed out of his Vice-Presidency job in January 1964. Arif became a dictator.
In May of 1964 a provisional constitution was issued which stressed arab unity. In July the banks, insurance companies, and a number of the country's industries were nationalized. This was an interesting move considering that Arif was never a believer in socialism, he adopted it because of the influence from Nassar's Egypt. Nor was Arif happy with the officers who led his coup and he began to isolate them. Meanwhile in the Baath Party Bakr assumed head of the dominant military committee while his cousin, Saddam Hussein, who was part of the 1959 assassination attempt on Qassim, becomes a leader of another political wing. Together they purge the left-wing elements from the Baath party.
Later that year another coup attempt against Arif fails, and both Hussein and al-Bakr are arrested, sentenced, and jailed. In 1965 al-Bakr was released because of illness. Hussein escaped in 1966.
Arif then asks Abd ar-Rahman al-Bazzaz, a distinguished lawyer, diplomat, and writer on arab nationalism, to form a new government.
That Oil Thing
Meanwhile the Arif government has decided to make nice with the oil industry after the Qassim government nationalized 95% of its land and started OPEC (see Part Six). Moves which inspired America's support for the 1963 Coup.
Negotiations are opened with the Iraq Petroleum Company (IPC) in May of 1964, but the Arif government is in a tough position.
The government could not easily repudiate the principle of "Law 80," because it might arouse public suspicion that the new regime was prepared to be an "instrument of the West." Nevertheless, a settlement was reached in 1965.
The agreed to a 50-50 share of the profits (basically the same agreement that existed before the Qassim government), and the IPC gained rights to the rich North Rumaila field, which the IPC had discovered but failed to exploit
Between 1961 and 1968, IPC increased production in Iraq by only a fraction of the increase achieved in the docile regimes of Iran, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia by the same oil giants who owned IPC. Since the size of IPC's payments to the Iraqi government depended on the size of its oil output, and since the government's revenues depended heavily on these payments, the oil giants' tactic caused Iraq great financial stringency, and prevented it from undertaking developmental projects. According to a secret U.S. government report, the IPC actually drilled wells to the wrong depth and covered others with bulldozers in order to reduce productive capacity. The prolonged deadlock had extracted a great price: "more than a dozen years of economic stagnation, political instability, and confrontation."
However, Arab nationalists condemned the agreement, and the government failed to ratify it for years. In the meantime Iraq's political situation changed.
The one thing Abdul-Salam Arif was committed to was pan-Arab nationalism. And in July of 1966 he started talks with Egypt and Syria about an actual merging of Iraq into this political alliance.
Just days later, on July 14th, Abdul-Salam Arif was dead in a helicoptor crash.
Abdul ar-Rahman Arif
His brother, Abdul-Rahman Arif, took over in his place. Abdul-Rahman Arif is really only significant to Iraq's history for two reasons: 1) he dismissed Abd ar-Rahman al-Bazzaz for daring to call for a representative government and elections, and 2) he decided that the Baathists were no longer a threat and released them from prison. The second decision would effect Iraq for the next four decades.
Abdul ar-Rahman was largely an arrogant, incompetent leader, whose greatest accomplishment was that he didn't make things worse. He also failed to accomplish anything despite all the problems in Iraq. He failed to listen to calls for greater representation in Iraq. He failed to see the warning signs from the Baathists. He also failed to lead his forces during the Six-Day War in 1967. Although it was over before Iraq could get fully mobilized, the political backlash was significant. The oil deal with the IPC completely fell through. Instead the Iraqis began opening their oil fields to competitive bids.
Another problem he failed to deal with was the war in Kurdistan. And like Qassim's government before him, it would also lead to his downfall.
The Great Kurdish-Iraq War
The military history of the Kurds goes all the way back 650 B.C., when the Babylonians labeled the inhabitants of the Kurdish mountains "Qutil", which is a derivative of the Persian word "warrior". The Persian Sasanian ruler Ardashir II, who destroyed the independence of the Kurds in 224 A.D. called the Kurdish warriors jânspâr, a Persian term meaning "self-sacrificer". The most famous Kurdish warrior was Saladin, the destroyer of the Crusader armies.
Even before Iraq was officially a country, the Kurdish fight for independence has been an open wound for the region. By the middle of the 1930's the Kurds had launched three different revolts against British and Iraqi forces, most of them led by Mustafa Barzani. In 1945 and 1947 there was a fourth and fifth revolt against the Iraqi government, but these were somewhat different in that they were more nationalistic and militaristic, rather than tribal-based like the previous ones.
After the 1958 Revolution, Qassim granted pardons to Barzani and all his followers and promised Kurdish autonomy. After their return they immediately paid dividends for Qassim by helping suppress revolts and coups in northern Iraq in 1959.
However, Qassim began fearing the growth in Barzani's power. In a repeat of how Qassim reacted to his communists support, Qassim sought to undermine Barzani by supplying his Kurdish enemies with guns. But Barzani was not like the communists (who stuck with supporting Qassim to the bloody end), Barzani began preparing for war. In 1961 he began seizing strategic positions in Kurdistan and even taking military actions against his Kurdish tribal enemies. In September of 1961 the Iraqi army went on the offensive and the Great Kurdish-Iraq War was underway.
Qassim immediately made two huge
mistakes - he was indiscriminate with air strikes, bombing areas that were initially not sympathetic to Barzani. This solidified popular support for the revolt, uniting Barzani's battle-hardened forces with tribal forces.
His second mistake was even worse - he outlawed
the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP). The KDP (led by Ibrahim Ahmad and Jalal Talabani), while sympathetic to Barzani, was independent of him. The outlawing of the party threw them into the fight. The KDP recognized Barzani as the "senior and presiding Kurdish leader".
Another problem for the Iraqi government was that a third of the army was Kurdish. When the revolt started there were mass defections. By fall 1962 Barzani had 20,000 trained soldiers at his disposal, a rotating reserve of 5,000 to 15,000 soldiers, and 10,000 to 20,000 local tribal militia forces. Even Kurdish women joined the ranks of the peshmerga.
Logistics were the most immediate problem for Barzani, but national rivals Syria, Turkey, (especially) Iran, and even Israel contributed to the Kurdish cause. By 1963 3/4 of the entire Iraqi army was engaged in this fight. Despite the enormous numbers involved, the war had become a stalemate (this poor performance led to the military abandoning Qassim during the 1963 coup). This was different from all the earlier revolts, which quickly ended with either surrender or exile. The Iraqi government realized that they had to negotiate. A cease-fire lasted from 1964 to April 1965, but nothing was resolved and the fighting resumed.
However, all was not well in the Kurdish leadership. The KDP resented Barzani's authority, style and politics. There was also tribal friction. At one point during a cease-fire the tensions got so bad that Barzani had his forces push Ahmad, Talabani, and 4,000 of their peshmerga into Iran (they returned when hostilities resumed).
By 1967 the Ahmad/Talabani faction was in open conflict with the Barzani faction (with both factions also fighting the Iraqi army). However, despite this infighting the Iraqi army was still unable to defeat the Kurds.
Return of the Baath
On July 17, 1968, Abdul ar-Rahman Arif was awakened from his sleep with a gun in his face. Holding the gun was Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr, but he wasn't alone. Several other Baath party members were with him, as well as Arif's head of military intelligence, Colonel 'Abd ar-Razzaq an-Nayif, and chief of Republican Guard, Colonel Ibrahim 'Abd ar-Rahman ad-Da'ud, among others. Arif was given the choice of leaving the country or dying right there. He chose the former and retired in Istanbul.
The coup was bloodless because the Baathists had agreed to work with members of the Arif government that weren't Baathists. Arif's base of support had been reduced to nothing but the military, and the military was unhappy because of the Kurdish situation.
Almost immediately a struggle for power arose between the Ba'th and Nayif-Da'ud group, both of which wanted more power. On July 30, 1968, an-Nayif was invited to lunch at the presidential palace. After the meal, Saddam Hussein entered with a group of armed officers and told an-Nayif he was under arrest. An agreement was reached in which an-Nayif's life was spared in exchange for him leaving the country. Ad-Da'ud was on a mission in Jordan at the time, and was told not to come back.
The Baathists were now in total control. Al-Bakr assumed the premiership in addition to the presidency. Most Cabinet posts were given to Ba'th leaders. Sympathizers of the Nayif-Da'ud group were removed from power. Al-Bakr was getting old and his health was deteriorating, so he increasingly leaned on his right-hand man, Hussein. But the Baath's problems were over. There was still the Kurdish problem to be dealt with.
A temporary peace
On March 11, 1970, a truce was signed between the Iraqi government and the Kurdish leadership.
The government agreed to officially recognize the Kurds as a "national" group entitled to a form of autonomous status called self-rule. This would eventually lead to the establishment of a provincial administrative council and an assembly to deal with Kurdish affairs. This was proclaimed in the Manifesto of March 11, 1970, to come into effect in 1974, following a census to determine the frontiers of the area in which the Kurds formed the majority of the population.
The Iraqi government also agreed with allow 6,000 peshmerga to remain active as a "Frontier Militia Force". 8,000 deactivated peshmerga received monthly payments.
from this 9-year war vary greatly. I've seen the number 12,000, and I've seen 105,000.
If that wasn't bad enough, this peace was doomed to be very temporary.
...but that's another story.