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First Iraqi–Kurdish War

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First Kurdish–Iraqi War
Part of the Iraqi–Kurdish conflict and the Arab–Israeli conflict
Date11 September 1961 – March 1970
Northern Iraq




Supported by:
Iran Iran (after 1968)
 United States (alleged)[2]

Before 1968:
Iraqi Republic
Syria Syria (1963)
Iran Iran (before 1968)

After 1968:
Ba'athist Iraq
Supported by:
 United States[4]
Commanders and leaders
Mustafa Barzani
Ahmed Barzani
Ibrahim Ahmad
Jalal Talabani
Ali Askari
Kamal Mufti[1]
Abdul Karim Qasim
Ahmed al-Bakr
Abdul Salam Arif
Abdul Rahman Arif
15,000–20,000[1] 48,000 (1969)[7]
Syria 6,000[3]
Casualties and losses
Unknown 10,000 killed[8]
Total: 6,600[9]–10,000 killed,[10] 80,000 displaced[10]

The First Iraqi–Kurdish War[1] (Arabic: الحرب العراقية الكردية الأولى) also known as Aylul revolts (Kurdish: [11] شۆڕشی ئەیلوول) was a major event of the Iraqi–Kurdish conflict, lasting from 1961 until 1970. The struggle was led by Mustafa Barzani, in an attempt to establish an independent Kurdistan. Throughout the 1960s, the uprising escalated into a long war, which failed to resolve despite internal power changes in Iraq. During the war, 80% of the Iraqi army was engaged in combat with the Kurds.[12] The war ended with a stalemate in 1970, resulting in between 75,000[10] to 105,000 casualties.[9] A series of Iraqi–Kurdish negotiations followed the war in an attempt to resolve the conflict. The negotiations led to the Iraqi–Kurdish Autonomy Agreement of 1970.


After the military coup by Abdul Karim Qasim in 1958, Barzani was invited by Qasim to return from exile. As part of a deal arranged by Qasim and Barzani, Qasim promised to give the Kurds regional autonomy in return for Barzani's support for his policies. Meanwhile, during 1959–1960, Barzani became the head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), which was granted legal status in 1960.


Mustafa Barzani with Abd al-Karim Qasim.

By early 1960, it became apparent that Qasim would not follow through with his promise of regional autonomy. As a result, the KDP began to agitate for regional autonomy. In the face of growing Kurdish dissent, as well as Barzani's personal power, Qasim began to incite the Barzanis historical enemies, the Bradost and Zebari tribes, which led to intertribal warfare throughout 1960 and early 1961.

By February 1961, Barzani had defeated the pro-government forces and consolidated his position as leader of the Kurds. At this point, Barzani ordered his forces to occupy and expel government officials from all Kurdish territory. This was not received well in Baghdad, and as a result, Qasim began to prepare for a military offensive against the north to return government control of the region. Meanwhile, in June 1961, the KDP issued a detailed ultimatum to Qasim outlining Kurdish grievances and demanded rectification. Qasim ignored the Kurdish demands and continued his planning for war. It was not until September 10, when an Iraqi army column was ambushed by a group of Kurds, that the Kurdish revolt truly began. In response to the attack, Qasim lashed out and ordered the Iraqi Air Force to indiscriminately bomb Kurdish villages, which ultimately served to rally the entire Kurdish population to Barzani's standard.

Kurdish villages were targeted by United States supplied munitions consisting napalm bombs numbering 1,000 and 4,000 other bombs which were given by the United States to the Ba'athist government in Baghdad to use against the Kurds. Entire Kurdish villages and livestock were incinerated by the napalm bombs.[13][14][15] The decision to supply napalm and other weapons to the Ba'athist was backed by American President Kennedy.[16][17] Napalm bombs were also sold to Iraq by the United Kingdom. French Ambassador Bernard Dorin witnessed a girl in Iraqi Kurdistan whose face was burned off by the UK made bombs.[18]

After the failure of the Syrian political union with Egypt in 1961, Syria was declared an Arab Republic in the interim constitution. On 23 August 1962, the government conducted a special population census only for the province of Jazira which was predominantly Kurdish. As a result, around 120,000 Kurds in Jazira were arbitrarily categorized as aliens. In addition, a media campaign was launched against the Kurds with slogans such as Save Arabism in Jazira! and Fight the Kurdish threat!. These policies coincided with the beginning of Barzani's uprising in Iraqi Kurdistan and discovery of oilfields in the Kurdish inhabited areas of Syria. In June 1963, Syria took part in the Iraqi military campaign against the Kurds by providing aircraft, armoured vehicles and a force of 6,000 soldiers. Syrian troops crossed the Iraqi border and moved into the Kurdish town of Zakho in pursuit of Barzani's fighters.[3]

Iraqi Senior officers in the North Movements, Khaleel Jassim the founder of the light regiments 'Jash' and commando units, first from the right and Ibrahim Faisal Al-Ansari the commander of the second division the third from the right in northern Iraq 1966

The Kurdish uprising received material support from Iran and Israel—both of them wishing to weaken Iraq. Israel regarded the Iraqi military as a possible threat in case of renewed fighting between Israel and Jordan and Syria. Iraqi forces had participated in the 1948 Arab invasion of Israel and Iraq was the only Arab participant in that war who refused to sign ceasefire agreements with Israel. Since then Iraq had on a number of occasions threatened to send forces to assist Jordan against Israel during rounds of border fighting between the two. Therefore, the Israelis wished to keep the Iraqis occupied elsewhere. Another Israeli interest was Kurdish assistance for Jews still living in Iraq to escape through Kurdish territory to Israel. Iran wished to strengthen its own political and military position vis-à-vis Iraq—the only other regional power in the Persian Gulf—and perhaps wring certain territorial concessions from Iraq in return for ceasing support of the Kurds (this was achieved in 1975, during the Second Iraqi-Kurdish War, but it is not clear when the idea was originally conceived).

In November 1963, after considerable infighting amongst the civilian and military wings of the Ba'athists, they were ousted by Abdul Salam Arif in a coup. Then, after another failed offensive on Kurds, Arif declared a ceasefire in February 1964, which provoked a split among Kurdish urban radicals on one hand and Peshmerga forces, led by Barzani on the other. Barzani agreed to the ceasefire and fired the radicals from the party. Following the unexpected death of Arif, whereupon he was replaced by his brother, Abdul Rahman Arif, the Iraqi government launched a last-ditch effort to defeat the Kurds. This campaign failed in May 1966, when Barzani forces thoroughly defeated the Iraqi Army at the Battle of Mount Handrin, near Rawanduz. At this battle, it was said that the Kurds slaughtered an entire Iraqi brigade.[5][6] Recognizing the futility of continuing this campaign, Rahamn Arif announced a 12-point peace program in June 1966, which was not implemented due to the overthrow of Abdul Rahman Arif in a 1968 coup by the Baath Party.

The Ba'ath government restarted a campaign to end the Kurdish insurrection, which stalled in 1969. This can be partly attributed to the Shah of Iran supplying the Kurds with weapons and ammunition. With Iranian help the Kurds decisively defeated the Iraqi advance.[10]

The internal power struggle in Baghdad also greatly hindered Iraqi progress. Moreover, the Soviet Union pressured the Iraqis to come to terms with Barzani.

Peace talks

A peace plan was announced in March 1970 and provided for broader Kurdish autonomy. The plan also gave Kurds representation in government bodies, to be implemented in four years.[19] Despite this, the Iraqi government embarked on an Arabization program in the oil rich regions of Kirkuk and Khanaqin in the same period.[20]


In the following years, the Iraqi government overcame its internal divisions and concluded a treaty of friendship with the Soviet Union in April 1972 and ended its isolation within the Arab world. On the other hand, Kurds remained dependent on the Iranian military support and could do little to strengthen their forces. By 1974 the situation in the north escalated again into the Second Iraqi–Kurdish War, which lasted until 1975.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d Michael G. Lortz. (Chapter 1, Introduction). The Kurdish Warrior Tradition and the Importance of the Peshmerga. pp.39-42. "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 29 October 2013. Retrieved 16 October 2014.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  2. ^ Wolfe-Hunnicutt, Brandon (2021). The Paranoid Style in American Diplomacy: Oil and Arab Nationalism in Iraq. Stanford University Press. p. 102. ISBN 978-1-5036-1382-9. Available documentation does not prove conclusively that the United States provided covert assistance to the Kurds in the fall of 1962, but the documents that have been declassified are certainly suggestive—especially in light of the general US policy orientation toward Iraq during this period.
  3. ^ a b c Vanly, I. C. (1992). "The Kurds in Syria and Lebanon". In Kreyenbroek, P. G.; Sperl, S. (eds.). The Kurds: A Contemporary Overview. Routledge. pp. 151–2. ISBN 0-415-07265-4.
  4. ^ "AL-MADA Daily Newspaper...جريدة المدى".
  5. ^ a b O'Ballance, Edgar (1973). The Kurdish Revolt, 1961–1970. London: Faber and Faber. ISBN 0-571-09905-X.
  6. ^ a b Pollack, Kenneth M. (2002). Arabs at War. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 0-8032-3733-2.
  7. ^ Al-Marashi, I.; Salama, S. (2008). Iraq's Armed Forces: An Analytical History. Routledge. p. 121. ISBN 9780415400787. Retrieved 14 May 2015.
  8. ^ Joint intelligence analysis by the U.S. State Department, CIA and DIA from May 1, 1975 - "The Implications of the Iran-Iraq agreement" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 17 June 2014. Retrieved 3 April 2011. (651 KB).
  9. ^ a b "All wars in the 20th century - the Polynational War Memorial". war-memorial.net. Retrieved 14 May 2015.
  10. ^ a b c d "18. Iraq/Kurds (1932-present)". uca.edu. Retrieved 14 May 2015.
  11. ^ Central Kurdish (Sorani)
  12. ^ The implications of the Iran-Iraq agreement
  13. ^ "عقيل الناصري - من خفايا انقلاب شباط الدموي 1963 (3-6)". الحوار المتمدن. Retrieved 20 August 2023.
  14. ^ "عقيل الناصري - الانقلاب التاسع والثلاثون- 1963،القطار الأمريكي وسباق المسافات الطويلة (4)". الحوار المتمدن. Retrieved 20 August 2023.
  15. ^ "AL-MADA Daily Newspaper...جريدة المدى".
  16. ^ The End of the Concessionary Regime: Oil and American Power in Iraq, 1958-1972. Stanford University. 2011. pp. 118–. STANFORD:tm772zz7352.
  17. ^ https://stacks.stanford.edu/file/druid:tm772zz7352/Concessionary%20Regime%20[permanent dead link][e-submit]-augmented.pdf
  18. ^ Allan Kaval (22 January 2014). "Bernard Dorin: Former French Ambassador, Unreserved Friend of the Kurds". rudaw.net. Retrieved 20 August 2023.
  19. ^ Harris, G. S. (1977). "Ethnic Conflict and the Kurds". Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. 433 (1): 118–120. doi:10.1177/000271627743300111. S2CID 145235862.
  20. ^ "Introduction : GENOCIDE IN IRAQ: The Anfal Campaign Against the Kurds (Human Rights Watch Report, 1993)". Hrw.org. Retrieved 28 December 2010.