Less than five years ago, the US-led coalition against Saddam Hussein established a “safe haven” in Iraqi Kurdistan following Iraq’s brutal suppression of an uprising against the regime during March-April 1991. The mood among the majority of Iraqi Kurds was highly optimistic: A certain measure of self-rule had been forced on the central government in Baghdad, a goal for which they had been fighting for almost half a century.
There may be more landmines deployed per person in Kurdish Iraq (population around 3.5 million) than in any other region in the world. A 1993 State Department report estimates that the Iraqi army laid 3 to 5 million mines there during the Iran-Iraq war and in the months leading up to the 1991 Gulf war. Others estimate that the number may be as high as 10 million, including mines that Iran also laid. Rough estimates of the ratios for the worst-affected countries are one mine per person in Angola and Afghanistan, and one mine for every two persons in Cambodia.
Four years after Operation Desert Storm, and the mass uprisings that followed in the southern and northern parts of Iraq against Saddam Hussein’s regime, the country’s economic and social fabric is in tatters. Economic sanctions, following a destructive war and compounded by the Iraqi government’s abusive and divisive social and political policies, have devoured the country’s once substantial middle class and further impoverished the already poor. Even if tomorrow the sanctions were lifted and the regime were to vanish, the capacity of Iraqi society to reconstitute itself is in grave peril.
Nader Entessar, Kurdish Ethnonationalism (Lynne Rienner, 1992).
Philip Kreyenbroek and Stefan Sperl, eds., The Kurds: A Contemporary Overview (Routledge, 1992).
Sheri Laizer, Into Kurdistan: Frontiers Under Fire (Zed, 1991).
Martin van Bruinessen, Agha, Shaikh and State: The Social and Political Structures of Kurdistan (Zed, 1992).
The most spectacular development of the past several years in Turkey’s Kurdish provinces has been the resumption, in the late summer of 1984, of guerrilla activity. The attacks consist mainly of hit-and-run actions against military personnel and against Kurdish civilians considered “traitors” or “collaborators.”
The news from Kurdistan is sad and grim. On both sides of the Iran-Iraq border, the central governments have been carrying out violent campaigns to bring the Kurdish districts under control and to wipe out the peshmergas (guerrilla fighters) of the various Kurdish organizations. This entails direct military clashes as well as reprisals against the civilian population. Numerous villages have been destroyed, either by their own government’s forces or in bombings by the neighboring country’s air force or artillery. Summary executions are commonplace.