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Treatment of the Kurdish Population by the Iraqi Regime

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Politics
Wordcount: 2315 words Published: 19th Sep 2017

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Factors Explaining the Treatment of the Kurdish Population by the Iraqi Regime under Saddam Hussein


The goal of the dissertation is to ascertain the leading factor(s) of Saddam Hussein and his Ba’athist party’s brutal treatment of Iraqi Kurds. Argued by many to be a case of attempted genocide, the primary instance the dissertation will examine is the Iraqi Anfal Campaign, which took place between 1986 and 1989. Aims of the dissertation will be to 1) establish the provocations that culminated in the attempted genocide of the Iraqi Kurds regardless of the degree of Kurdish culpability, 2) place the genocide in a larger historical context, and 3) evaluate the internal and external political context in which the genocide occurred. Secondary objectives to be met in the dissertation will be the paralleling of the Iraqi Kurdish tragedy to those of other minorities in the post-colonial Middle East, as well as the twinning of the context in which Kurds were massacred in Iraq with the contexts in which other minorities were treated. Groups included in the secondary examination will be Kurds in Turkey as well as Armenians in Turkey and Azerbaijan. The tertiary and final objective of the dissertation will be the examination of the treatment of other minorities in contrast to that of the Kurds, including Kurds in Iran as well as Armenian expatriates in Iran.

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From a religious standpoint, an overwhelming majority of the Kurds share a religion and history in common with the Arab Iraqi Sunni. Kurds, Kurdish culture, and Kurdish historical figures are integrated into the Sunni Arab conscience, evidenced by the reverence of the legendary warrior Salah Al-Din (Saladin) as well as Hussein’s own widely reputed claim to be the latest incarnation of said figure. It is concluded hence that the oppression and mass murder of the Kurds was not due to a religious difference, but rather a political and theocratic distinction that separated the Kurds from their Sunni Arab compatriots in a time when dissension was promptly and violently put down. Texts evaluating the context of the Kurdish murders will be Viva Bartkus’ The Dynamic of Secession and Robert Gellately’s The Specter of Genocide: Mass Murder in Historical Perspective. Evaluations of the Iraqi political climate prior to and immediately following the 1991 Gulf War will refer to Robert Freedman’s The Middle East After Iraq’s Invasion of Kuwait, while proof of the murders as a genocide over a mere neutralization of an uprising will be provided by Samuel Totten’s Century of Genocide: Critical Essays and Eyewitness Accounts. By dissecting and compartmentalizing the dissertation into three distinct parts, maintenance of a concrete timetable of progress becomes simpler. Moreover, data compilation, comparison, and evaluation is made simpler when done in small, focused spurts as opposed to a myriad of topics and ideas. The intricacies of the politics involved in the Anfal Campaign warrant a multi-dimensional, non-partisan examination of the attempted genocide. Mere dismissal of the atrocity as an act by a mindless, brutal despot brings no insight to the event; as a corollary, mankind can make no progress without a clear-cut rationalization of the brutality.


The most prevalent strengths apparent are in data filtering and acquisition. There is strong variety in the array of sources, all of which contribute to the multiple vantages of the dissertation. A particular strength that was made of use was the ability to separate media accounts from scholarly logs. With the amount of media bias so prevalently established in Europe and America (polarized both in favor of and against the ongoing American occupation of Iraq), objective sources are difficult to identify. Immediate weaknesses include the inability to initially grasp the political motives and framework within which the Anfal Campaign of 1986-1989 was executed. Unlike multi-ethnic states such as the former Yugoslavia in which ethnicity and religion contributed to a larger problem, the Iraqi quandary of national unity and the factors contributing to the oppression of the Kurds including collusion between religious leaders inside Iraq and international rivals of the secular Ba’athist regime. Bartkus writes that past Kurdish leaders were funded by “the shah of Iran, Mossad, and the CIA” who “provided arms and advisers” in matters of secession and general rebellion[1].

Following the debilitating Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s, “the Kurds attempted to use opportunity” to “gain control over their own territory”[2]. According to Bartkus, Hussein launched the beginnings of the Anfal Campaign, “razing some 5,000 Kurdish villages [in] response” to the uprising, inicluding “the 1988 chemical weapons attack on the Kurdish town of Halabja” that “killed over 5,000 people and forced several hundred thousand to seek refuge in turkey or Iran”[3]. According to Bartkus, several Iraqi Kurdish “pashmergas attempted to liberate Kurdish towns in March 1991, directly after Iraq’s defeat in the Gulf War,” hence again exploiting Iraqi military debilitation to bolster the argument that Kurdish secession and Iraqi repression is an ongoing conflict (Ibid). The Kurdish oppression at the hands of Hussein’s regime have more in common with the plight of the Armenians at the turn of the Great War (WWI), where upon the landing of European forces at “Gallipoli, Turkish authorities began a process of repression of internal communities—Armenian communities, numbering perhaps 2 million” throughout the Ottoman Empire[4].

The dissertation has several similarities to other assignments undertaken, particularly in the organization of the paper and its focus around a stated set of arguments and the elaboration of said arguments throughout the paper. The basic formula of block quoting and argumentation is applicable and accurately employed in the extrapolation of theories postulated and later proven. Where the original dissertation proposal entailed several suggested concepts including religious and political postulations, it did not refute the claims in a compare-and-contrast method of research. This research plan includes rebuttals of popular notions concerning the Kurdish oppressions as well as support of more varying conclusions. For example, while the oppression of Kurds is linked to ethnic differences, there was no formulation of the argument that such rebellions were common in the Middle East, especially under the Ottoman and later Turkish governments, who, as former rulers of modern-day Iraq, faced problems with Kurds throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Mainstream schools of thought such as Freeman’s collection of essays have begun to point out the struggle of largely pro-Islamist Kurds against imposed Ba’athist secularism, a remnant from the days of the Pan-Arab Nationalist movement of the 1960s vis-à-vis Hafiz al-Assad’s “brutal suppression of the Muslim Brothers in 1983”[5].


While all data has been collected and documented for the primary, secondary, and tertiary objectives, the next step in the dissertation’s completion that warrants progress is the organization of specific arguments in such a way as to correlate all objectives in a logical manner. The oppression of Kurds is a multi-faceted topic, as are the parallel events including Kurdish oppression outside Iraq in Turkey, Syria, and to an extent neighboring Iran. More difficult a correlation is the recently-contested status of the Armenian Genocide of 1914. The Armenian-Turkish and Kurdish-Iraqi oppressions share much in common that they could warrant the creation of an entirely separate dissertation. A growing problem in the integration of the Armenian Genocide is deciding which facts to include. Aspects of Armenian oppression in the Ottoman Empire and Turkish government can be used to both parallel and contrast the Kurdish-Iraqi conflict. Furthermore, the existence of both Armenian and Kurdish integrated populations into Iran begs the question of the relevance of external Kurdish land disputes. Historic Kurdistan would cut into several states outside Iraq, warranting the validity of mentioning the history of Kurdish secessionism in the region.

In keeping focused and on-topic, several key points have been removed from the original introduction. First, the schism in Islamic theology between Sunni and Shi’a is omitted from the latest draft. While it is an important facet of internal Iraqi politics, the frailty of the Sunni-Shi’a population contingent has nothing to do with Kurdish mass murders unless it is mentioned in the context of Iraqi national unity. Before 1940, modern-day Iraq never existed. The Ottomans separated Iraq into cantons, including but not limited to the modern-day provinces comprising Iraq today. No single ethnic group comprising Iraq today has ever lead a unified Iraq; Saladin integrated the “Land of the Two Rivers” into an empire spanning Egypt, Syria, Israel, and Palestine, while the Ottomans assigned separate governors to Shi’a-dominant, Sunni-dominant, and Kurdish-dominant regions.

The frailty of Iraqi cohesion is the only reason one might mention the different Islamic theologies, and even then it would warrant only a passing thought. A more pertinent focus would be on the drawing of post-colonial borders and its effect on nationalism. If Islamist schools of government are a necessity to mention, it should be intimated that Kurds are largely pro-theocracy and anti-secularism, while Iraq’s Arab Muslims populations are torn between theocracy (Shi’a and Sunni alike) and the familiarity of the Pan-Arab Nationalist Ba’ath Party. An additional revision has been the introduction of Iran as a major contrarian party to Iraq in its treatment of Kurds, despite its being ethnically different from Kurds as well as religiously opposite the Sunnis as the world’s only existing Shiite theocracy.


Bartkus, Viva Ona. (1999) The Dynamic of Secession. Cambridge: Cambridge U P.

Freedman, Robert Owen. (1993) The Middle East After Iraq’s Invasion of Kuwait. Gainesville: U of Florida P.

Gellately, Robert and Ben Kiernan. (2003) The Specter of Genocide: Mass Murder in Historical Perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge U P.

Totten, Samuel. (2004) Century of Genocide: Critical Essays and Eyewitness Accounts. New York: Routledge P.


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[1] Bartkus 1999, p. 65

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid

[4] Gellately and Kiernan 2003, p. 207

[5] Freedman 1993, p. 279


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