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Iraq: The Kurdish Problem
Country Study > Chapter 5 > National Security > Internal Security > Internal Developments and Security > The Kurdish Problem


The Kurdish minority offered the most persistent and militarily effective security threat of Iraq's modern history dashed all hopes for a unified Kurdish independent state. The Iraqi and Iranian regimes each chose to support a Kurdish faction opposing the other's government, and this intervention divided the Kurds along "national" lines. As a result, during the 1980s Kurds in Iraq tended to hope for an Iranian victory in the Iran-Iraq War, while a number of Kurds in Iran thought that an Iraqi victory would best promote their own aspirations. Because most Kurds were Sunni Muslims, however, their enthusiasm for a Shia government in either country was somewhat limited.

Following the outbreak of hostilities and the ensuing stalemate in the Iran-Iraq War, Kurdish opponents of the Iraqi regime revived their armed struggle against Baghdad. In response to deportations, executions, and other atrocities allegedly perpetrated by the Baath, the Kurds seemed in the 1980s to have renewed their political consciousness, albeit in a very limited way. Differences between the brothers Masud and Idris Barzani, who led the KDP, and Jalal Talabani, leader of the Iraqisupported Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), as well as the Kurdish leadership's periodic shifts into progovernment and antigovernment alliances, benefited Baghdad, which could manipulate opposing factions. What the Iraqi government could not afford, however, was to risk the opening of a second hostile front in Kurdistan as long as it was bogged down in its war with Iran. Throughout the 1980s, therefore, Baghdad tolerated the growing strength of the Kurdish resistance, which, despite shortcomings in its leadership, continued its long struggle for independence.

Data as of May 1988

Last Updated: May 1988

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Iraq was first published in 1988. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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