The Iraqi–Kurdish conflict consists of a series of wars and rebellions by the Kurds against the central authority of Iraq, which began shortly after the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War I and lasting until the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. Some put the marking point of the conflict beginning to the attempt by Mahmud Barzanji to establish an independent Kingdom of Kurdistan, while others relate to the conflict as only the post-1961 insurrection by the Barzanis. The conflict lasted until the U.S. invasion to Iraq in 2003, though tensions between the Kurdish autonomy and the central Iraqi government have continued.
The first chapter of the Kurdish-Iraqi dispute followed the end of World War I and the arrival of the British forces. Mahmud Barzanji began secession attempts in 1919 and in 1922 proclaimed the short-living Kingdom of Kurdistan. Though Mahmud’s insurrections were defeated, another Kurdish sheikh – Ahmed Barzani began to actively oppose the central rule of the Mandatory Iraq during the 1920s. The first of the major Barzani revolt took place in 1931, after Barzani, one of the most prominent Kurdish leaders in Northern Iraq, succeeded in defeating a number of other Kurdish tribes. He ultimately failed and took refuge in Turkey. The next serious Kurdish secession attempt was made by Ahmed Barzani’s younger brother – Mustafa Barzani in 1943, but the revolt failed as well, resulting in exile of Mustafa to Iran, where he participated in the attempt to form the Kurdish Republic of Mahabad.
In 1958, Mustafa Barzani and his fighters returned to Iraq from exile, and an attempt was made to negotiate a Kurdish autonomy in the north with the new Iraqi regime of Qasim. The negotiations ultimately failed and the First Kurdish-Iraqi Warerupted on 11 September 1961, lasting until 1970 and inflicting 75,000-105,000 casualties. Despite the attempts toresolve the conflict by providing Kurds with a recognized autonomy in North Iraq (Iraqi Kurdistan), the negotiations failed in 1974, resulting in resumed hostilities, known as the Second Kurdish-Iraqi War, which resulted in collapse of the Kurdish militias and reconquest of northern Iraq by Iraqi government troops. As a result, Mustafa Barzani and most of KDP leadership fled to Iran, while PUK gained power in the vacuum, leading an insurgency campaign against the central Iraqi government. Since 1976, PUK and KDP relations quickly deteriorated, reaching the climax in April 1978, when PUK troops suffered a major defeat by KDP, which had the support of Iranian and Iraqi air forces.
The conflict re-emerged as part of the Iran-Iraq War, with the Kurdish parties collaborating against Saddam Husein, and KDP also gaining military support by the Islamic Republic of Iran. By 1986, Iraqi leadership grew tired of the strengthening and non-loyal Kurdish entity in North Iraq and began a genocidal campaign, known as Al-Anfal, to oust the Kurdish fighters and take revenge on the Kurdish population – an act often described as the Kurdish genocide, with an estimated 50,000-200,000 casualties. In the aftermath of the Persian Gulf War, a series of uprisings shattered Iraq, but only the Kurds succeeded in achieving a status of unrecognized autonomy within one of the Iraqi no-fly zones, established by the U.S.-led coalition. In the mid-1990s, the conflict between the KDP and PUK erupted once again, resulting in a bloody civil war, which ended in 1997. The most valuable gains of the Kurds occurred between 2003 and 2005, when the Hussein regime was toppled as part of the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the Kurdish autonomy finally gained recognition by the new Iraqi government. Despite the mutual recognition, the relations between Iraqi Kurdistan and the Iraqi central government grew strained between 2011 and 2012 due to power sharing issues and the export of oil.