The Kurdish Uprising, Part II: 25th Anniversary

For the uprising, the Kurdistan Front divided the Peshmerga forces into four commands, one for each of the four Kurdish provinces, including Kirkuk.

Read the previous articles in the series: Road to Independence, Pulling Punches, 'Surrender' at Safwan and The Kurdish Uprising, Part I

For the uprising, the Kurdistan Front divided the Peshmerga forces into four commands, one for each of the four Kurdish provinces, including Kirkuk. The leadership fixed on March 10 as “D-Day.” Spring was approaching, and that suggested a somewhat slower approach. Snow still hampered travel in the mountains, and each day that the snow melted would ease the crossing back home over the mountains from Iran into Iraq.

However, the Kurdish people in Iraq were not necessarily prepared to wait. After the allied bombing campaign, the regime could no longer jam radio broadcasts. People began listening to radio stations that they did not know even existed. The uprising in the south had started on March 1. Foreign radio stations were reporting on those events, while Kurdish radio told people that the Peshmerga were coming.

On March 5, the town of Rania revolted. Ali Nabi, a Mustashar who had been in contact with the Kurdistan Front, led the uprising there.


Sulaimani followed two days later, rising on March 7. The Kurdish commander for the province recalled that he and his Peshmerga began moving on March 6, crossing the mountains that night. On March 8, they joined in the fight.

A resident of Sulaimani offered this account of events: “We knew there would be an uprising from the radio and from friends who were Peshmerga in the secret cells in the city. But we didn’t know the date.” He continued. “The night before, the cells distributed arms to those who wanted to participate,” and the next morning, the uprising began. “When people heard the first shots, they came out of their houses and joined in attacking the prisons” and other strongholds of the regime.

One man, part of a secret cell in Sulaimani, explained, “When the shooting outside the city was first heard, almost all the Iraqi police and soldiers surrendered without fighting. But then the Amn (security) began to resist.” He recalled that “the people, the armed cells, and the jash all joined together to attack the Amn building,” where other diehard elements, including the provincial governor and the Ba’ath Party, had holed up. They fought back, firing mortars blindly into the crowds and onto houses, but their resistance ended on the third day. They had run out of ammunition.”

“Most were killed, some were taken prisoner,” he continued. “The people were angry and wanted those responsible for the torture killed.”

Afterwards, people came to go through the Amn building, “as if they were visiting a museum.” They never imagined that such a thing would be possible. Some brought shovels and started digging in the central court, thinking there were cellars underneath, but there was nothing.

The Kurdistan Front kept order after the regime had been driven out. Preventing revenge attacks was a priority. “There was no electricity and little fuel, but there was no chaos,” this man explained. Food was in short supply, and many Iraqi soldiers had surrendered. They were housed in the mosques, and the Kurdistan Front asked the city’s wealthy people to feed them. There were “celebrations everywhere.” People felt as if “they were breathing freedom for the first time since 1958.”


Liberation came a few days later to Erbil. The commander of the Erbil force recalled how he led his Peshmerga down to the border, where they found and attacked Iraqi troops. However, “morale was very low, and they just surrendered.” The Peshmerga pushed south, taking Korre and Salahuddin on the ninth and 10th. As they did so, their ranks swelled, as many young men joined them.

On the 10th, the commander sent cells into Erbil. That night, he and his forces moved toward the city and took all the settlements around it. They entered Erbil early in the morning and by nightfall, it was under Kurdish control. By March 13, the entire province had been cleared of Saddam Hussein’s forces.

One Erbil resident recalled, “On March 10, we heard that the army had surrendered from Hajj Omran (on the Iranian border) to Salahuddin. Police cars patrolled the city with loudspeakers, saying a curfew had been imposed. Probably, they planned to arrest the able-bodied youth and use them as bargaining chips, but they couldn’t manage to do that. Instead, the high-ranking officials fled that night.”

Another man elaborated. He had spent the night listening to a radio signal used by the Amn. At 2 a.m., there were reports that the uprising had begun in the northern outskirts of Erbil. The head of the Amn office asked an officer to check the report. An hour-and-a-half later, he tried to phone his boss, but there was no response. He had fled.

“At dawn, the Peshmerga knocked on our door,” a third Erbil resident recounted, “They needed to use our roof because our house was near the Amn building. They jumped from roof to roof to get there. Around 7 that night, I heard shouts of joy and went outside. They said that the Amn had fallen. I was jubilant. I never believed that I would see a day like this.”

And a young woman recalled, “Many girls wanted to marry Peshmerga, because of their courage and sacrifice. Every night, there was singing, dancing and parties.”

Those were joyous days, though they were to prove brief. Before describing Saddam’s vicious and ferocious return, this K24 anniversary series will relate the final liberation in that period of two Kurdish cities—Duhok and Kirkuk, some ten days later.

Laurie Ann Mylroie, Ph.D., taught at Harvard University and the US Naval War College. Most recently, she served as a cultural advisor to the US military in Afghanistan.


Editing by Delovan Barwari and Karzan Sulaivany