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Background Facts and Related Links

Iraqi Kurds

An estimated 4 million Kurds live in Iraq, making them the country's largest ethnic minority.

Iraq's Kurdish population is concentrated in the northern part of the country. Iraqi Kurdistan, as this area is known, contains rich oil fields and the cities of Mosul, Irbil and Kirkuk.

Iraqi Kurds are part of the 25 million Kurds who live in an area that spreads across parts of Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Armenia and Azerbaijan. Kurds have their own language and culture and a strong sense of national identity, which have often put them at odds with the regions' governments.

In 1988, Saddam launched a genocidal campaign against the Kurds, attacking Kurdish villages and towns with chemical gas and killing thousands.

Kurdish survivors of the genocidal tactics were then evicted and forced further north under a policy of "Arabization," which resettled Iraqi Arabs in northern Iraq, with Arabs taking the homes and jobs of Kurds.

Since the Gulf War, Kurds have enjoyed de facto independence, with their own Kurdish government, in a northern autonomous zone created by Gulf War coalition forces.

Two rival parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), dominate Iraqi Kurdish politics.

In the January 30 elections, the Kurdistan Alliance -- consisting of the KDP and PUK -- won 75 of 275 seats in the national assembly -- over 25 percent. The Kurds then joined forces with the Shiite bloc, which won 140 votes, to form a two-thirds assembly vote to install a new government.

In April 2005, Jalal Talabani, longtime leader of the PUK, was named president by the national assembly.

In June 2005, Masoud Barzani, Talabani's former rival and leader of the KDP, was named president of Iraqi Kurdistan.

Related Links

"The Kurds' Story"
In 2000, the PBS FRONTLINE program "The Survival of Saddam" looked at the role Kurds have played in the history of modern Iraq. Interviews with Kurdish leaders and American diplomats explore the Iraqi Kurds' violent past and their aspirations for a post-Saddam Iraq.

The U.S.-Kurdish Relationship
The United States has had a long and at times uneasy relationship with the Kurds. After World War I, it promised to support an independent Kurdish state and during the 1970s it supported -- then abandoned -- Kurdish rebels inside Iraq. FRONTLINE presents a timeline of the main events in 20th-century U.S.-Kurdish history.

AKA Kurdistan
In her book Kurdistan: In the Shadow of History, American photographer Susan Meiselas explores the modern history of the Kurds through photographs, pictures and writings. With no central archive for Kurdish historical documents, the book was the first time many of these materials had been made public. This companion Web site includes images from the book and a page where visitors may submit their own pictures and writings about Kurdistan.

"Kirkuk: Iraq's incendiary city"
This BBC article explains why Kirkuk is so important in terms of politics, culture and history.

Kurdish Nationalism

American Kurdish Information Network
AKIN, a Washington-based Kurdish advocacy group, promotes awareness of the Kurds and their struggle for independence. Its Web site includes commentary on current Kurdish issues and graphic images of atrocities committed against Kurds in Iraq and Turkey.

Kurdistan Democratic Party
The KDP, founded by Mustafa Barzani in 1946, is one of Iraq's dominant Kurdish nationalist groups. Barzani's son Masoud currently heads the organization. Since 1992, the KDP has shared power and occasionally fought with other Kurdish parties, including the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.

Patriotic Union of Kurdistan
The PUK is Iraq's other main Kurdish nationalist group, headed since 1975 by Jalal Talabani, who is now president of Iraq. As its official site explains, "The organization's aim is to revitalize resistance and to rebuild and redirect Kurdish society along modern and democratic lines."

Kurds in Iraq

BBC Timeline
This BBC chronology starts with the post-World War I British occupation of Mosul and continues through latest events in Iraqi Kurdistan.

The Anfal Campaign
Anfal, which is Arabic for "spoils," was the name of Saddam Hussein's genocidal campaign against Iraqi Kurds in the late 1980s. This report by Human Rights Watch gives a detailed account of the campaign's atrocities throughout Iraqi Kurdistan.

Chemical Ali
The most infamous aspect of Anfal was the Iraqi military's use of chemical weapons against Kurdish civilians. The mastermind of this strategy was Ali Hassan al-Majid, a Ba'ath Party leader now known as "Chemical Ali." In these transcripts of taped conversations with Ali, he openly describes the brutal tactics used against the Kurds.

Kurdistan Regional Government
From its capital in Irbil, the Kurdistan Regional Government controls the "liberated area of Iraqi Kurdistan." Its official Web site features news stories about the reconstruction of Iraq and information on the KRG's decade-long efforts to set up an alternative government in northern Iraq.


Kurdish Media
Kurdish Media, a British-based Web site, presents an extensive array of stories on Kurdish news and culture.

The Guardian
The British newspaper The Guardian maintains a Web site with comprehensive links to recent stories about Kurds in Iraq and Turkey.