Following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire at the end of the first world war, the 1920 Treaty of Sevres carved up the Turk's territories among the Allied powers, and created a special autonomous homeland for the Kurds.

Three years later, the treaty was abrogated and replaced by the Treaty of Lausanne, which waived Turkey's right to grant autonomy to the Kurds.

The new treaty decreed the division of the Kurdish region among Turkey, Iraq and Syria.

Currently, some 25 million Kurds - mostly Sunni Muslims - still lack a political or legal status that satisfies their quest for independence. 

History of rebellion

Iraqi Kurds have been subjected to two devastating forms of violence: inter-party feuds and outside onslaughts.

In 1946, the Iraqi Kurdish leader Mustafa al-Barazani founded the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) and called for an independent state.

Nearly 15 years later, political aspirations were ignited by the rebellion of 1961 against the central government of Iraq.

The Iraqi president at the time, Abd al-Karim Qasim, promptly crushed the revolt. This highlighted the ongoing struggle between successive Iraqi governments and the Kurds.

Throughout the 1970s, 80s and 90s, Iraqi Kurds staged several major rebellions against the Iraq government – often with US encouragement - only to be left to face the consequences alone once defeated.

In March last year they joined US and British forces to topple president Saddam Hussein's government.

At present, four Iraqi Kurds are members of the interim Iraqi Governing Council (IGC).

Political demands

Recently Iraqi Kurds have accelerated their efforts to fulfil their political objectives in Iraq.

A draft proposal entitled Transitional Law was submitted for review in December 2003 by the four Kurdish IGC members.
 
The proposal states that Kurdish self-rule areas should consist of the four provinces of Irbil, Kirkuk, Dahouk and Sulymanya, as well as the Kurdish areas in the Dyala province.
 
The document asserts that Kurdistan shall have its own flag, insignia and a national anthem. It also demands the recognition of the Kurdish language as an official language, in addition to Arabic, in greater Iraq.

In a statement published in a Kurdish newspaper, KDP leader and IGC member Masud al-Barazani briefed a visiting Arab League delegation in Irbil last December about Kurdish concerns. 

"What the Kurdish people call for is voluntary federalism within a democratic multi-party Iraq where the Kurds enjoy equal rights with, but not subordinated to, the Iraqi Arabs," he said.

Another prominent Kurdish member of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), Nushirwan Mustafa, expressed support for a Kurdish entity within a federal Iraqi republic.

Mustafa said that he believes: "The proper way to build a new Iraq with its multi-ethnic and multi-sectarian character is by agreement on a socio-political and legal contract that would reflect the will of all the people, not the will of the majority, be it ethnic, religious or sectarian."

Among other demands, Iraqi Kurds are seeking a political mandate that will enable them to hold economic, commercial and cultural agreements with foreign countries.
 
The proposal further advises that regional Kurdish laws should supersede central government laws and that any central laws that were not approved by the Kurdistan parliament should not be valid in the Kurdistan region. 

Moreover, Kurds in Iraq have sought to attain full control over the natural resources of their provinces, including oil-rich areas in the city of Kirkuk.

The draft proposal called for abrogating all the decrees and laws made by the previous Iraqi government, aiming at altering the ethnic composition in Dyala, Kirkuk, Mosul, Salahadin and Irbil, where Kurds are the majority.

Iraqi Kurds signed up to the new
interim constitution 

Constraints to federalism

Under the current political situation in Iraq, there are already signs of resistance to the Kurdish draft proposal from various political and religious groups.

Both Sunni and Shia religious figures have rejected Kurdish attempts to divide the country into what they describe as "federal entities".

"We all belong to one country," Mugtada al-Sadr, an influential Shia leader, told his followers during a Friday prayer sermon.

"The north cannot be separated from the south because we are all Iraqis, the Arab is an Iraqi and the Kurd is an Iraqi," al-Sadr said.

Sunni figures have also expressed the same message of opposition to the Kurdish proposal.

In an attempt to diffuse the tension caused by the Kurdish proposal, IGC member Adnan Pachachi told reporters: "In principle, we have accepted the federalism proposal, but the details have to be discussed and clarified during the writing of the Iraqi constitution."

According to the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper, the US wants to keep the status quo in the Kurdish areas until the transfer of power to an Iraqi government is finalised.

This, according to the Kurds, would further complicate their situation.

Analysts argue that it would be difficult to ignore the present political structures in the Kurdish areas, but a decision on federalism should be made by an elected Iraqi government.

One step closer?

On 8 March 2004 the IGC signed an interim Iraqi constitution, declaring it to be "a decisive day in the history of the new Iraq".

Al-Barazani said: "Nobody gets everything they wanted, but there is no doubt that this document will strengthen Iraqi unity in a way never seen before.

"This is the first time that we Kurds feel that we are citizens of Iraq," he said.

The interim constitution enshrines Iraqi Kurds' demands for autonomy in three northern provinces and guarantees minority rights.

For days, the Kurdish population of Kirkuk took to the streets in celebration, although the interim constitution does not rule definitively on the future of their city or Kurdish autonomy.

Observers say that the relevant provisions of the interim constitution do not automatically lead to an independent Kurdistan.

"They are going to have a nasty hangover when they wake up in the morning," a western official told the British newspaper The Guardian, referring to the jubilant Kurds.

"They clearly have not read the new law carefully enough."