A political miscalculation by Iraqi Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani – staging an independence referendum that prompted fierce retaliation by Baghdad – has set back hopes for a Kurdish state by decades, writes Joe Lauria.
By Joe Lauria
Masoud Barzani was born in 1946 in the Mahabad Republic, the only modern Kurdish state that has ever existed. It lasted one year in northern Iran, declared under Soviet military occupation at the end of the Second World War. Months after the Soviets withdrew Iran crushed the nascent republic and executed its leaders in early 1947.
Though there has been no Kurdish state since, either in Iran, Iraq, Turkey or Syria, the dream of an independent Kurdistan was handed down to Barzani by his father, Mustafa Barzani, a leader of the influential tribe from the town of Barzan in the mountains of the Kurdish north of Iraq.
After the first Gulf War in 1991, President George H.W. Bush called on the Iraqi Kurds and the Shia in the south to rise up against Saddam Hussein. But he provided no support and the Kurds and Shia were slaughtered. In response the U.S. got a U.N. Security Council-approved “no fly zone” set up over the north and south of the country.
Under the protection of U.S. air cover, the Kurds forged a large measure of autonomy from Baghdad. But Barzani’s tribe, centered in Erbil, had competition for Kurdish leadership from the Talabani tribe, in the second largest Kurdish Iraqi city, Sulemaniyah. Over three years, the two tribes fought a bitter civil war for control of the Kurdish region, with thousands killed until the Clinton White House brokered a ceasefire in 1998.
Barzani was made president of the entire Iraqi Kurdish region in a power-sharing agreement. The Clinton peace agreement however left each side with control over their own peshmerga military force and intelligence apparatus. These were never integrated even after Kurdish autonomy became formalized with Baghdad’s recognition following the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. (Jalal Talabani served as president of Iraq from 2005 to 2014, although primary governing authority rested with the prime minister…