From Ranya to Kirkuk

Remembering the 1991 Kurdish uprising

RANYA — Tuesday marked the 33rd anniversary of the Kurdish uprising that began in Ranya on March 5, 1991 before swiftly spreading to cities and towns across the region, culminating in Kirkuk on March 20.

With the end of the Iran-Iraq war on Aug. 8, 1988, the Ba’ath regime  intensified its repressive measures against Iraq’s Kurds. The resulting revolts wer a response to the regime’s long-standing oppression, which included the brutal Anfal campaign, chemical attacks, and mass displacement.

The government’s hold on power began to shift following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait on Aug. 2, 1990. The international coalition’s opposition to the move offered an unexpected opportunity for change within the region. The Iraqi army faced significant setbacks, weakening Saddam Hussein’s grip and exacerbating already dire economic conditions within Iraq.

Shi’ite populations in the southern regions began a revolt, but were met with a severe response from the regime. Rather than deter the Kurds in the north, the government’s response galvanized the population and their leaders to organize more effectively.

Kurdish parties began preparations, strengthening their hold on positions along the unofficial border of predominantly-Kurdish areas. These preparations were critical in uniting various Kurdish factions and the broader population for the impending uprising.

Initially sparked in Ranya, Kurds in Bazian and Pshdar followed on March 6 with the uprising rapidly gained momentum, uniting Kurdish political entites as well as people in villages and towns across the region. Within days, major cities including Sulaymaniyah, Erbil, and Duhok and their surroundings rose up, marking the spread of the rebellion.

The uprising was met with a brutal response from the Ba’ath regime, forcing  large-scale displacement towards the borders of neighboring countries.

The international community responded on April 5, 1991 with UN Resolution 688, urging Iraq to cease repression, which was followed by the launch of Operation Provide Comfort by the United States, Britain, and France, delivering humanitarian aid and establishing a no-fly zone above the 36th parallel.

The 1991 uprising, though ultimately quelled by the Ba’ath regime, was a pivotal moment that paved the way for the establishment of the Kurdistan Region, its semiautonomous status, and government.

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