After the end of the first world war the largest stateless ethnic group in the world, the Kurds, were denied autonomy and the chance to have Kurdistan - their state. The area which this state would have constituted lies across the borders of Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Syria. The Kurds finally tasted autonomy in 1991 when the UN protected Kurdish Enclave was created in northern Iraq.

The enclave was created in response to the 'Kurdish uprising' that followed the Gulf War of 1990-1: the uprising itself a response to years or oppression under the hands of Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, encouraged by suggestions of US military aid by the American media. Although the spontanaeous Kurdish-Shi'ite uprising was at first successful, the US did not intervene as hinted when Saddam broke the Gulf War cease-fire terms (a pro-Iranian Shi'ite government was not in US interests). Hussein swiftly retaliated with fixed wing aircraft and helicopter gunships, brutally crushing the rebellion. 1.5 million Kurds fled to the Turkish and Iranian borders as the futility of resistance became apparent. The United Nations stepped in to try to resolve the situation, resulting in a Memorandum of Understanding with Baghdad which used President Turgut Ozal of Turkey's idea of a Kurdish 'safe-haven' in Northern Iraq (Notably not in the Kurdish areas of Turkey!). This oil-rich area was classified as a 'no fly zone' for Iraqi aircraft, and would be quasi-autonomous following elections.

Naturally, Saddam was not overly enthusiastic about the idea of Kurdish elections, so it is unsurprising that he refused any foreign intervention. He took the task of disrupting the voting upon himself: journalists in the area at the time report the use of 'indoctrinators' who persuaded people not to support the independence movement, with the use of extensive propaganda and intimidation tactics. Saddam also made an economic assault on the region: he altered the exchange rate of the dinar to sixty times its real value, effectively putting a 98.5% tax on all aid. In addition, he altered the oil prices in the region to the extent that in the -15degree winter of 1992 there were concerns about the population as a whole. The next move was to delete the 25 dinar note which wiped out 40% of Kurdish assets, essentially placing the region of 70% unemployment in severe poverty.

The elections, when they were eventually held, divided power on a 50-50 basis between the PUK - Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, and Massoud Barzani's Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP). The Kurds, rarely united throughout history, began to fight among themselves, warlords rising and falling, and many elections, such as the presidential elections, being totally disregarded. This meant that the creation of any kind of infrastructure or institution was greatly hindered. Democracy is still upheld, however, and freedom of speech, religion and gender equality are cherished. The UN maintained a heavy involvement in the region, albeit ineffective: failing to produce concrete agreements on the region each time the sanctions on Iraq were renegotiated, also hiring local 'peshmergas' - Kurdish fighters - to protect their UN guards and NGOs.

The state of the enclave is currently unstable, but improving: the UN's own sanctions on Iraq mean that there are problems with importing aid to this impoverished area, leading to all manner of solvable problems being left to remain. The use of chemical weapons in the area, both by the British in the post WW1 years, and by the Ba'ath regime have left their mark through incredibly high rates of cancer, respiratory problems and birth defects. In some areas, foreigners have not entered as the land is so toxic. The medical provisions are ill-equipped to deal with this. Books from which children learn are left from the Iraqi regime as there has been no money to replace them. In some areas, there is no money to buy pencils. Much of this is due to UN incompetence in distributing what aid there was available. Although Iraqi forces cannot enter the enclave, Turkish and Iranian forces can, and have - Turkey for example has an agreement with Iraq that in pursuing terrorists over the border, no permission from Iraq is required. However, despite all this, progress has been made, and the Kurdish Enclave is now prospering, and even exports foodstuffs to Iran, plus the UN allocation of oil-for-food ratio was increased to 13%, enhancing the quality of living further.

With the current situation of the possibility of war between the United States and Iraq, it will be interesting to see the effect on the Kurdish Enclave - especially when one bears in mind that it was George Bush senior who allowed the cease fire agreement to be broken when Saddam cracked down on the uprising.

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