Agreement Follows History of Failure, Betrayal
Apr. 25, 1991
NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) _ The Kurdish autonomy agreement between rebel leaders and Saddam Hussein was driven by desperation and haunted by a history of violence and betrayal.
Jalal Talabani, head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, announced Wednesday that Saddam had agreed to some form of autonomy for the Kurds, who have been battling central government control for decades.
He said talks on details are due next week.
Kurdish rebel leaders entered the talks saying they were desperate to save the lives of more than 2 million refugees who fled into the mountains on the Iranian and Turkish borders after a failed revolt last month.
Saddam himself is eager to reassert control over a country shattered by the war over Kuwait and still occupied by foreign troops in the north and south.
President Bush indicated last week that he would not approve an end to the U.N. economic sanctions strangling Iraq until the Kurds begin to resettle in Iraq proper.
A White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Wednesday that the pact might help coax the Kurds home. But he said he remained skeptical of the agreement because Saddam had broken similar promises before.
Kurdish leaders also reached autonomy agreements with Iraq in 1966, 1970 and 1985 when the Iraqi government - as now - faced either internal dissent or foreign threat.
Each collapsed in bloodshed, partly because the central government regained its power and partly due to perpetual squabbling among Kurdish factions, some more willing than others to cut a deal.
Because of that, the rebels entered the new talks demanding international guarantees for any agreement. Talabani made no mention of that Wednesday and many Kurds remained skeptical.
''I think every Kurd is suspicious of every promise by Saddam Hussein and the only thing really we trust is international guarantees,'' said Kamal Mirawdeli, director of the Kurdish Information and Educational Project in London.
Speaking before the pact, a prominent Kurdish analyst in the United States also expressed doubt about Saddam's intentions.
''The only time there have been negotiations have been under duress ... when there has been an external threat or there has been a war going on,'' said Mehrdad Izady, a teacher of Kurdish at Harvard University. The Iraqi government ''has never felt bound to accept these agreements,'' he said.
The Kurds are a nation of 20 million people with their own language and culture - but no state. After World War I, they found themselves divided by the borders of Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Syria and the Soviet Union.
Iraq's 3.5 million Kurds have tried sporadically since 1919 to win independence or at least autonomy from the central government in Baghdad, which is dominated by Arabs.
Talabani said the current talks were based on the 1970 agreement negotiated by Saddam, who was then vice president. That plan advanced farther than any of the others.
Saddam's Arab Baath Socialist Party had taken power in 1968 and hoped a pact with the Kurds could end their rebellion and help cement Baathist rule.
That pact recognized Kurdish nationalism, denied by neighboring states, made Kurdish an official language and called for its use in all schools.
It called for fair representation of Kurds in the national government and army, use of Kurdish officials in Kurdish areas and fair distribution of revenues to Kurdish territories.
It also committed the state to Kurdish national rights and self-rule.
But disputes broke out over the population and territory of the Kurdish area, as well as over government efforts to move the army into the Kurdish highlands and the rebels' refusal to surrender their weapons.
Clashes between the Kurds and the army broke out. The Kurds expanded their demands to a military pullback. They turned to Iran, Israel and the United States for aid and full-scale fighting resumed.
But Iran suddenly reached agreement on other matters with Saddam in 1975 and halted aid to the Kurds, killing the rebellion.
That was one of many betrayals of the Kurds, who have been repeatedly used as pawns by governments trying to harass their neighbors.
Iraq enacted its Kurdish autonomy law in 1974 and the law still remains nominally in effect, although local Kurdish leaders have acted as agents for Saddam's Baathist government.
The rebels resumed large-scale fighting during the 1980-88 Iraq-Iran war, aided by Iran. Talabani in 1985 agreed to a cease-fire with Saddam, but that fell apart.
Saddam, feeling that the Kurds betrayed Iraq during a war, brutally crushed their revolt as the war with Iran ended, razing thousands of villages and using chemical weapons which killed thousands of people.