Kurdish Autonomous Zone

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Region of northern Iraq where Iraqi Kurds have been living under de facto autonomy since 1991.

At the instigation of France, on 5 April 1988 the United Nations Security Council produced Resolution 688 condemning "the repression of the Iraqi civilian population in many parts of Iraq, including most recently in Kurdish populated areas" and demanding "an immediate end to this repression" and immediate access to all parts of Iraq for humanitarian organizations. Given this international awareness of the plight of the Kurds, the collapse of the Kurdish uprising in March 1991 that followed the Gulf War and the flight of hundreds of thousands of Kurds to the borders of Turkey and Iran shocked Westerners. On 10 April, under pressure from his own constituents, U.S. president George Bush prohibited Iraqi planes from flying north of the 36th parallel, creating the so-called No-Fly Zone, and on 17 April he announced the creation of a "safe haven" inside Iraqi Kurdistan. At first, the Allies created three protection zones: around Zakho, Amadia, and Shila Diza. The signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the UN and the Iraqi government on 18 April 1991 allowed the repatriation of thousands of Kurdish refugees within the framework of Operation Provide Comfort.

While Masʿud Barzani, Jalal Talabani, and the other leaders of the Kurdistan Front, a coalition of Kurdish parties, were negotiating with Iraq's President Saddam Hussein in Baghdad, an uneasy military situation prevailed in Kurdistan. The Kurdish peshmergas ("those who face death," i.e., fighters) were able to enter the cities of Erbil and Sulaymaniyya, which were theoretically still controlled by the Iraqi army. On 20 August 2002 Barzani returned to Kurdistan with a draft agreement that was rejected by the other parties, ending the negotiations. In October 2002 the Iraqi armed forces and the Iraqi administration evacuated Irbil and Sulaymaniyya, maintaining their presence in what is called the "useful Kurdistan": Kirkuk, Khanakin, and Sinjar.

For the first time in their history, the Kurds controlled a large area of Kurdistanmore than 15,400 square milesin which they planned to set up their own institutions, organizing elections in May 1992 and forming a Kurdish government in July 1992.

But in May 1994 fighting resumed between the Democratic Party of Kurdistan, Iraq (DPK) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), and in spite of the diplomatic efforts of the French and British governments, this fratricidal war continued until the U.S. government imposed the Washington Agreement in September 1998. The Kurdish Autonomous Zone remains divided into two regions, each ruled by a Kurdish regional government, based in Irbil (DKP) and Sulaymaniyya (PUK). In spite of these problems, the Kurdish Autonomous Zone has made tremendous progress since 1996 thanks to the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 986the Oil for Food resolutionand the injection of hundreds of million of dollars in the region. On 8 September 2002 Barzani and Talabani reached an agreement in Sari Rash on the normalization of relations between the two warring parties, which led to meetings of the Kurdish parliament in full session in Irbil and Sulaymaniyya in October 2002 and the adoption of a draft federal constitution.

During the Iraq War (2003), Kurdish forces placed themselves under the authority of the invading American-led coalition forces, and constituted a major part of the coalition's northern front. They also helped capture Mosul and Kirkuk from Iraqi forces.

see also barzani, family; democratic party of kurdistan (iraq); gulf war (1991); hussein, saddam; kurdish revolts; kurdistan; kurds; patriotic union of kurdistan (puk); talabani, jalal.


McDowell, David. A Modern History of the Kurds. London: I. B. Tauris, 1996.

Randal, Jonathan C. After Such Knowledge, What Forgiveness?: My Encounters with Kurdistan. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1997.

chris kutschera