ERBIL — The 1991 uprising, or better known as the major uprising, was led by the people Kurdistan Region against Saddam Hussein’s Baath regime. Peshmerga forces also played a key role in the uprising after they left the mountains and joined the people in the cities.
The 1991 Kurdish uprising is considered as a landmark event which altered regional politics.
GROUND PROVIDED FOR UPRISING
After ending an 8-year-long war with the neighboring Iran in 1988, the ruling Baath regime renewed its military campaign against the Kurdish freedom movement, carrying out chemical and genocidal attacks against not only the Kurdish Peshmerga forces, but also the Kurdish civilians. The downfall of the Iraqi government after it lost the war in Kuwait provided the ground for a Kurdish uprising.
READY TO RISE UP
Seizing the weakness of the Iraqi government after its defeat in Kuwait, Kurds in north and rival Arabs in south started organizing popular movements to stand against Saddam Hussein’s regime. The movements in southern Iraq were soon brought under control of the government, but Kurds in the north were fully committed to gain their rights this time.
Peshmerga forces and the Kurdish political parties moved into the cities and started organizing the people and set a ‘zero hour’ for the uprising. The first spark of the uprising was reported on March 5th 1991 in Raniya, Sulaymaniyah province; soon after, other cities and districts joined the uprising until Kirkuk was liberated on 21st of March the same year. During these 16 days, Kurds managed to oust all the Iraqi soldiers and take control of government offices and military bases across the region.
However, Saddam Hussein’s regime carried out a massive attack on the liberated Kurdish areas as a result of which the majority of Kurdish civilians fled their towns to the neighboring countries. The displacement is better known as the ‘major exodus’.
HOW IT STARTED?
Two days before people in Raniya start the uprising, there were violent clashes between the Kurdish residents of Khabat camp near Erbil and the government police forces. The people took control of a local police station on 3rd of March, but they later handed it back to the government when a large number of soldiers attacked them and killed two Kurdish civilians.
At around 09:00 am local time on March 5th, a large mass in Raniya took the streets and stormed government buildings, local radios and mosques which were used to call on people to join the uprising. At around 15:00 the same day, the entire city was freed from Baath regime elements, and the uprising has already started spreading to the subdistricts of Raniya. The confrontations on the first day of the uprising costed the lives of 100 civilians and at least 50 regime elements.
It is worth mentioning that the Kurdish political parties had planed the uprising to start on March 7th, but the people took it to the streets two days earlier, hurrying to taste the freedom.
On March 7th, the uprising reached the major city of Sulaymaniyah. Thousands of people with a large number of Peshmerga forces stormed the government buildings, military bases and police stations. Only a day later, one of the most strategic buildings for the government fell into the hands of the people; the Red Security or ‘Amna Suraka’ was home to all horrors of the repressive Saddam Hussein’s regime. Today, Amna Suraka is a museum displaying shocking relicts of Saddam's genocide against the Kurds.
It was only the second day of the uprising in Sulaymaniyah when thousands of government forces and their commanders surrendered to the Peshmerga forces.
The uprising has already spread to other Kurdish cities including Halabjah, Chamchamal, Arabat, Qaladize, Kifri, Koya, Shaqlawa and other… In some of the mentioned towns the regime forces set up fierce resistance and killed hundreds of civilians, but some others, the government forces soon surrendered to the Peshmerga and the people.
ERBIL JOINS THE UPRISING
On 11th of March, thousands of people in Erbil took the streets and stormed the government buildings, intelligence directorates, police stations and military bases. In some neighborhoods, the casualties among civilians were reported high due to fierce resistance lines the Baath regime had set up. With the Peshmerga forces joining the mass, victory was almost achieved and other subdistricts around Erbil also began attacking the government forces.
With the Peshmerga forces already taking control of the city and the entire government buildings, people opened a path for thousands of Iraqi soldiers to safely leave Erbil and move to Mosul.
DUHOK AND KIRKUK
People in Zakho district of Duhok province attacked the military bases and stormed government buildings on 13th of March; they soon took control of the entire town and inflicted the government forces with heavy damages. One day later Duhok city joined the uprising and it also declared victory soon after. However, the victory was not without a cost as civilians were killed by Saddam Hussein’s regime forces in the city during confrontations in some military and intelligence locations belonging to the government.
KIRKUK CELEBRATED 1991 KURDISH NEW YEAR WITH UPRISING
On March 21st 1991, the entire Kurdish areas were already freed from the Baath regime and it was Kirkuk’s turn to stand up. All the Kurdish political parties focused on Kirkuk and organized their forces and the people inside the city to stand against the government. After deadly clashes between the civilians and Peshmerga on one side, and the Baath regime forces on the other side, victory was achieved by Kurds in Kirkuk.
However, the victory in Kirkuk did not last so long as the Iraqi government launched massive military operations with the help of People's Mujahedin of Iran — an exiled Iranian leftist political-militant organization. They retook control of Kirkuk and caused another massive exodus of civilians.