Remembering the PUK - KDP civil war 20 years on

Remembering the PUK - KDP civil war 20 years on
5 years ago

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SULAIMANI — Twenty years ago, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) was forced to retreat from Erbil in an internal conflict between the Kurdistan Region’s main political parties, which led to the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) calling on the Iraqi Baath Regime to intervene.

The civil war between the PUK and the KDP began in early May 1994 in Raniya, northwest of Sulaimani.

As the war began, the PUK headquarters in Duhok was captured by KDP fighters and the KDP branch-office no. 4 in Sulaimani was captured by the PUK.

The Kurdistan Islamic Movement joined the fight against the PUK from Khurmal, southeast of Sulaimani. KDP leader Masoud Barzani called for an end to the war and for the Kurdistan Front, now disbanded, to hold a meeting. The war between the PUK and the KDP continued and reached the city of Sulaimani on May 15.

A peace operation room was established in the resort of Salahudin on May 19. The decision to bring an end to the war was made following a meeting between Barzani and Kosrat Rasul, a senior PUK member.

On June 2, 1994, PUK Secretary-General Jalal Talabani and Nawshirwan Mustafa, at that time a senior PUK member, returned to the Kurdistan Region. Later, Talabani decided to bring a stop to the war after the KDP and the Kurdistan Islamic Movement captured the towns of Qaladiza and Penjwen.

Kurdistan’s Parliament held a meeting with Talabani and Barzani attending on June 30 and the conflict wound down although the war continued in some areas until the end of 1994.


Conflict in 1995 and 1996

The war resumed in early 1995. PUK fighters captured the city of Erbil on January 15. Delegations from the PUK and the KDP held a meeting in Dublin, supervised by the U.S., on August 9, 1995.

The situation became complicated further after the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) attacked KDP headquarters in Bamerne, Zakho, Mergasure and Barzan.

Iranian forces informed the PUK when they crossed 250 km across the border into the Kurdistan Region and attacked the headquarters of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran (KDP-I) from Haibat Sultan, northeast of Koya, on July 28, 1996.

In the summer of 1996, the KDP controlled one out of three sections of the Kurdistan Region’s territory and the U.S., Turkey and Iran began to lessen support for the KDP in its fight against the PUK.

The third phase of the internal war resumed early on August 18, 1996 when PUK forces seized Safin and Shaqlawa and approached Sari Rash northeast of Erbil. On August 22, Barzani sent a message to the President of the Baath Regime, Saddam Hussein, requesting assistance.

The Iraqi army, backed by KDP forces, attacked Erbil with an estimated number of nearly 30,000 soldiers and 500 tanks in the dawn of August 31, 1996.

Iraqi forces first attacked Erbil from the front lines at Kani Qirzhala, east of Erbil, and Qushtapa, south of Erbil, as well as other areas surrounding the city. The first PUK defeat was between Gwer and the main Erbil road. After this defeat, the frontlines of PUK forces were ruined and the party failed to defend them. In a short amount of time, the city of Erbil was captured and tanks appeared at the parliament building.

The fate of PUK members in Erbil, Hero Ibrahim Ahmed, Fuad Hussein, Kamal Fuad and Omer Fatah was unclear until the evening of August 31.

Although senior PUK member Kosrat Rasul was determined to defend Erbil, Rasul’s forces left Bina Slawa for Bestana following a call from Mala Bakhtiar and Mohammed Haji Mahmour to withdraw.  The two PUK members believed further defense was no longer of use.

The Iraqi army captured the headquarters of Iraqi opposition groups, including the Turkmen front, and killed many members.

Some members of PUK forces remained inside Erbil until 9 p.m. on August 31. All PUK forces withdrew from Erbil after PUK forces left the frontlines. Koya was captured following the withdrawal. Talabani visited an area near Kani Watman northeast of the city of Sulaimani. After observing of the poor condition of PUK forces, the PUK left Sulaimani for Iran on the night of August 31.

After one month, PUK fighters returned and seized Sulaimani in a counter-attack against KDP forces. PUK forces approached Erbil but the Iraqi army warned the PUK to withdraw. Iraqi forces threatened to launch another attack in the interest of the KDP, a senior official of the Iraqi Baath Regime, Tariq Aziz, said in an interview.

Besides the threat from the Baath Regime, Turkish airstrikes assisting the KDP prevented PUK forces from advancing further.

Following the war between the two parties, the Kurdistan Region was divided into two zones of governance and administration for years.