THE KURDS IN IRAQ

During the past week of rebellion in Iraq, Kurdish sources claimed to have taken control of several towns in the north. The Kurds are among the few known sectors of opposition to the regime of Saddam Hussein, which also includes some Communists, pan-Arabists, and Shiite Muslims. In the past, they have been openly rebellious in attempts to gain greater autonomy. Here is a look at the Kurds:

Background:

In the late 1980s, the Iraqi government began to concentrate more resources against the Kurdish separatist movement in the north. Certain areas were said to be systemically depopulated, forcing thousands of Kurds to resettle or find refuge in Turkey and Iran, where many remain in refugee camps. In 1988, Kurdish communities came under attack by chemical weapons, although Baghdad denied the claim. Nearly 5,000 people were believed killed in the Iraqi town of Halabja.

Stateless people:

* The 1920 Treaty of Sevres between allied powers and the Ottoman Empire after World War I envisaged the creation of a Kurdish state. But the pact was canceled in 1923.

* The Republic of Kurdistan was declared at Mahabad in the north of Iran between 1946 and 1947 with the help of the Soviet army. But support for it was abandoned in favor of a friendship treaty between Iraq and the Soviet Union in 1972.

* Iraq promised autonomy to the Kurds in 1970, but it never became more than a symbolic arrangement.

Kurdish resistance in Iraq:

* Kurdish rebel groups including the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the pro-Iranian Kurdistan Democratic Party have been engaged in an armed struggle for autonomy in northern Iraq.

* Rebel sources have also said that Iraqi opposition groups, including the PUK, KDP, Iraqi Communists, Nationalists and pro-Syrian Baathists, met in Damascus in December to discuss setting up an alternative government in Baghdad if Hussein fell.

* Several Kurdish rebel sources said recently that Baghdad had warned them that there would be a repeat of the Halabja attack if they assisted coalition forces. Other resistance leaders claimed that Kurdish guerrillas were responsible for attacks on Hussein's Baath Party headquarters in northeastern Iraq.

* History: The Kurdish people, who share the same Indo-European racial roots as the Persians or the Afghans, have lived for thousands of years in the mountainous frontiers of the region. Kurds are the largest non-Arab ethnic minority in Iraq.

* Numbers: An estimated 16 million Kurds, scattered across Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria.

TURKEY: 6.8 million

IRAN: 5 million

IRAQ: 3.4 million

SYRIA: 1.2 million

SOVIET UNION: 265,000

LEBANON: 60,000

* Religion: Most are Sunni Muslims; Shiite Muslims make up about 55% of Iraq's 17 million people.

* Language: Kurdish, with several dialects.

Source: Iraq: a Country Study, Federal Research Division, Library of Congress (1988), Cambridge Encyclopedia of the Middle east (1988), Los Angeles Times, Associated Press

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