Skip to content
Opinion
Eli Lake

The Liberation of Iraq Began 25 Years Ago

Protecting Kurds after Saddam Hussein's forces were ousted from Kuwait in 1991, the U.S. committed to a no-fly zone and a new relationship in the Mideast.
A quarter-century ago, Iraqi Kurds were refugees. Now they are almost a nation.

A quarter-century ago, Iraqi Kurds were refugees. Now they are almost a nation.

Photographer: SAFIN HAMED/AFP/Getty Images

One of the few foreign-policy priorities on which Republicans and Democrats can agree these days is the importance of aiding Kurds in and around Iraq. The White House is working openly with Syrian Kurds whose political roots go back to Kurdish separatists in Turkey. Members of both parties support legislation to directly arm the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq. Even Donald Trump has spared a kind word for them.

The U.S. relationship with Kurds hasn't always been so warm. In 1975, the CIA cut off covert aid to the Iraqi Kurds at the request of the shah of Iran, leaving them to be slaughtered by Iraqi forces. President Ronald Reagan turned a blind eye in 1988 when Saddam Hussein attacked Kurdish villages with nerve gas. President George H.W. Bush was slow to respond when Saddam attacked the Kurds again in 1991 after a U.S.-led coalition drove invading Iraqis out of Kuwait.