300. Defense Intelligence Agency Intelligence Appraisal1

KURDISH REFUGEE SITUATION

Summary

Kurdish hopes for an autonomous state were destroyed in March 1975 when Kurdish leader Mulla Mustafa Barzani lost Iranian support and was forced to evacuate his forces from Iraq. Nearly two million Kurds now face eventual integration into Iraqi society. Iran and Iraq will be burdened with providing long-term economic support for these refugees since aid will be required until adequate jobs and housing can be found. This transition is expected to be troublesome because neither Baghdad nor Tehran intends to allow enclaves of Kurdish nationalists, aspiring toward an independent Kurdish state, to become reestablished.

Background

Iraq and Iran remain in a quandary over the disposition of Kurdish refugees displaced from Iraq following Iran’s official termination of support for the Kurdish insurgent movement. Iraqi Kurds in Iran numbered more than 140,000 prior to the signing of the Iran-Iraqi accord, concluded on 6 March in Algiers. An additional 30,000 Kurdish refugees fled to Iran to avoid the advancing Iraqi Army during the last few days of the fighting along the northern frontier.

[Page 808]

Iraq’s Reaction

Baghdad’s resettlement of displaced Kurdish families began almost immediately, much to the surprise of some observers who thought reprisals against Kurds who surrendered would be extensive. Only a small number of Kurds were reportedly executed upon their capture or return to Iraq. The government moved quickly to restore normal conditions in northern Iraq (figure 1)2 by granting amnesty to all Kurds except those closely associated with Kurdish leader Barzani. Despite repeated extensions by Baghdad of the amnesty deadline to encourage repatriation, only an estimated 70,000 Kurds, including some professionals and intellectuals, had returned to Iraq by the end of May. Furthermore, Baghdad’s resettlement of Kurdish families to the southern provinces of Iraq and efforts to “Arabize” Iraq’s northern provinces caused some 3,000 additional Kurds to flee to Iran in July. An amnesty for Kurds who were former government employees or soldiers has now been extended by Baghdad until 16 October.

The limited attention that Baghdad is paying to Kurdish needs and aspirations has contributed to the disillusionment of many returning refugees. Baghdad, moreover, does not want large numbers of Kurds now located in Iran to return since the refugees may once again resume their fight.

Iran’s Burden

Tehran has also failed to satisfy the needs of the approximately 100,000 Kurds who remain refugees in Iran. Integration of Kurdish workers into jobs has proceeded slowly, and many Kurds have complained about inadequate living conditions in camps and resettlement areas (figure 2). Kurds who have refused to live and work where directed by Iranian authorities have been identified for eventual return to Iraq.3 Refugee attitudes are deteriorating because of the harsh conditions in the Iranian camps and the slow progress in resettlement.

Kurdish Dissidence

Kurdish perceptions revolve around their desires to remain in their ancestral home, the Iran–Iraq border area. Kurds are also apprehensive about returning to Iraq, as they fear retaliation against other [Page 809]Kurds who have in the past, undermined policies of the Iraqi government.

Kurdish dissidents in the refugee camps in Iran will continue to thwart Iranian authority. Kurds feel that their aspirations cannot be met by Tehran and, under present circumstances, they have little to lose in their quest for survival.

Several hundred hardline rebels who refused amnesty and took refuge deep in their mountainous homeland are continuing low-level Kurdish antigovernment guerilla activities in northern Iraq. Other rebels, under the leadership of longtime leftist Jalal Talabani (figure 3), have fled to Syria and have formed a new movement, the Kurdistan National Union, opposed to both Iraq and Iran. This organization does not currently pose a serious problem to either Baghdad or Tehran; however, it could become a troublesome irritant with significant foreign backing.

International Aid

The UN is currently involved in helping 1,400 Kurdish refugees to resettle in third countries. Appeals have been delivered to Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, the Federal Republic of Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, UK, and the US to accept Kurdish refugees. However, even if all these countries respond favorably and accept token numbers of Kurds from refugee camps in Iran, both Iran and Iraq will still retain the majority of the refugees. Kurds who either do not want resettlement or do not get the opportunity to accept third country sponsorship, will continue to be discontented.

Outlook

The Kurdish refugee situation will not disappear in the Iran–Iraq border areas. Tehran will have to provide attractive jobs and adequate living conditions for those refugees remaining in Iran. Meanwhile, it will be necessary for Baghdad to dispel the fear of reprisals against the 10,000 to 20,000 Kurds who are expected to be returned to Iraqi control. Furthermore, UN bureaucratic paperwork must be expedited to obtain agreements with third countries to accept perhaps 20,000 Kurdish refugees. The Kurds are proud people, and no matter where the Kurdish refugees are eventually resettled, the Kurdish quest for autonomy will persist.

  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, OSD Files: FRC 330–78–0058, Box 65, Iran 000.1–299. Secret; Noforn; Orcon; Nocontract.
  2. Figures 1–3 are not printed.
  3. In telegram 8585 from Tehran, September 3, the Embassy reported that Iraq and Iran were negotiating an agreement for the repatriation, which refugees heard would be forcible, of half of the 93,000 Kurdish refugees to Iraq. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy Files, D750304–0157) In telegram 9909 from Tehran, the Embassy reported the assertions of Iranian officials that some 30–40,000 Kurds had agreed to return to Iraq, a number that Embassy officials increased to 60–80,000 in telegram 10236 from Tehran, October 20. (Both ibid., D750352–0464 and D750363–0451)