Abstract

In a prolonged quest for independence after 1945, Kurdish nationalists reportedly sought help from U.S. officials who viewed the Kurdish issue through a Cold War prism and who regarded the Kurds as querulous mountain tribes useful primarily in keeping the Soviet Union and its Arab clients off balance. Recently declassified documents shed new light on three key episodes in this story: first, the secret encouragement provided by Washington to Kurds opposed to Iraq's Abdul Karim Qassim, who tilted toward Moscow after seizing power in 1958; second, the covert action launched by Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger in Iraqi Kurdistan after Saddam Hussein allied himself with the USSR in 1972; and third, the half-hearted U.S. attempts to foment regime change in Iraq in the early 1990s. In each case, the U.S. government stirred up anti-Arab resentments among the Kurds, helped ignite an insurrection, and then pulled the plug when events spiraled out of control. U.S. duplicity plus Kurdish factionalism equaled tragedy in the mountains of Kurdistan.

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