A fierce conflict is now being fought in the mountains of Northern Iraq. Tribesmen equipped with rifles and horses have achieved a series of military successes against a mechanized army supported by heavy artillery and jet fighters. The Kurdish revolt, led by the resourceful Mullah Mustafa al-Barzani, culminates a long series of attempt by the Kurds to form an autonomous Kurdish state encompassing parts of Iraq, Iran and Turkey. The present uprising, described in a recent group of articles in the New York Times by Dana Adams Schmidt, has two specific objectives: the creation of a Kurdish nation in Northern Iraq and the destruction of the Iraqi regime of Premier Abdul Karim Kassim.
The Kurds have a long and varied history. During the Middle Ages twenty-eight Kurdish principalities were formed, one led by Saladin, the curse of the Crusaders. The Kurdish princes, however, were subjugated by the Turks in the thirteenth century and the Kurds remained under Turkish domination until World War I. In 1920 they were promised an independent Kurdistan by the Treaty of Sevres only to be robbed of it by the Treaty of Lousanne in 1923.
Mullah Mustafa al-Barzani has been a leader in the Kurdish struggle for independence for many years From 1932 to 1943 he and two brothers were exiled from Iraq because of revolutionary activities. After his 1943 rebellion against the Iraq government failed Barzani and comrades set up the Mehabad Republic in Iraq in 1946. When this was crushed a year later, Mullah Mustafa and 496 men fought their way back through Iraq to refuge in the Soviet Union. They remained in the U.S.S.R. until after the 1958 Revolution which overthrew King Faisal and brought Kassim to power.
Relations between Mustafa and Kassim gradually worsened after the former's return to Iraq and in August, 1961, Mustafa led his followers into open revolt against the Baghdad government. During the fall and winter of that year he consolidated his position among the various Kurdish tribes, defeated tribal groups armed by Kassim, such as the Lolans and Harchis, and attacked government outposts in Western Iraq. Barzani's success led him to shift his guerrillas to the Eastern Front where he has consistently defeated Kassim's troops. The Kurds, whose total forces number between 12,000 and 15,000 men, have surrounded an Iraq army of 12,000 men and now control over half of the 25,000 square miles of Iraqi Kurdistan.
Although the Kurd's present rate of advance might seem to indicate that Kassim has little chance of withstanding them, all is not in their favor. Barzani's guerrilla tactics, which have cost the Iraqi army forty men for each Kurdish casualty, will be much less effective on the open plains before Baghdad where Kassim can bring his armament into play. Moreover, Mustafa does not have enough men to occupy any sizable towns. The Iraqi air force is taking a rising toll of women and children through its attacks on Kurdish villages, and this pressure may hamper further Kurdish advance.
Thus, although judging by its present debacle the Iraqi army will probably lose most of Northern Iraq to the Kurds, the tribesmen will have great difficulty advancing south of the mountains. An eventual compromise solution between the Kurds and the central government is likely, although neither can at present agree on satisfactory terms.
The revolt may have several disturbing consequences. First, it has weakened and will further weaken Kassim's regime, perhaps causing its eventual collapse. Were the Baghdad government to fall, a Communist or Communist-controlled regime might easily come to power. If Mullah Mustafa succeeds in creating an autonomous Iraqi Kurdish state, the three million Kurds in Turkey and Iran will probably wish to join him. Such a movement towards a larger independent Kurdistan would seriously disrupt the internal affairs of our closest allies. Moreover, any emerging Kurdish state will make an already seething Middle East even more unstable.