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History of Betrayal

October 7, 2019

A Trump Administration decision to remove American protection from the Kurds has a long history.


By Daniel Schorr, April 7, 1991, Washington Post

The Pike report:

President Nixon and National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger, visiting Tehran on May 31, 1972, on their way home from a Moscow summit, were asked by the shah to arm and finance an insurrection of the Iraqi Kurds as a favor to the Iranian ruler, “who had cooperated with U.S. intelligence agencies and who had come to feel menaced by his neighbor.”

The covert-action project was put together within weeks by the White House and the CIA (headed by Richard Helms, who, a year later, would be observing the operation from the other end as ambassador to Tehran). Kissinger decided to keep Secretary of State William P. Rogers and the entire State Department in the dark. Treasury Secretary John Connally, who was assuming an important role in the Nixon re-election campaign, was sent on a secret mission to Tehran to inform the shah that the project had been approved.

It carried a $16-million price tag and called for supplying the Kurds mainly with Soviet weapons provided by Israel, which was a partner in the enterprise. The shah could easily have financed the operation himself, but the Kurds, not trusting him, insisted that the United States be the “guarantor.” Mustafa Barzani was quoted as saying that he “trusted no other major power,” and that, if his cause succeeded, he was ready for Kurdistan to “become the 51st state.”

Barzani expressed great admiration for Kissinger (who in 1973 asumed the additional position of secretary of state). Barzani sent Kissinger three rugs and, when he married Nancy Maginnes, a gold and pearl necklace as a wedding gift. Kissinger wrote in a memo to his assistant, Brent Scowcroft, that the gifts should be kept secret because the relationship with the Kurds was “extremely sensitive.”

For three years the Kurds fought the Iraqi forces, sustaining thousands of casualties. Through the CIA, the U.S. government discouraged the Kurds from negotiating a measure of autonomy with the Iraqi central government but also restrained them from undertaking an all-out offensive. The policy was, says the Pike report, “that the insurgents simply continue a level of hostilities sufficient to sap the resources of our ally’s neighboring country.” AWhite House memo from Kissinger to CIA Director William E. Colby in October 1973 said that Nixon “concurs in your judgment” that “we do not repeat NOT consider it advisable” that the Kurds should “undertake the offensive military action” which had been proposed by Israel. Israel, then at war with the Arabs, had its own reasons to want the Iraqi forces diverted.

But by that time, the shah had started moving in a different direction. As early as October 1972, the CIA got wind of overtures towards a settlement of the border dispute between Iran and Iraq. But the agency was ordered not to inform the Kurdish command and to keep the Kurds fighting, thus providing the shah with “a card to play” in his negotiations with Saddam Hussein. The Pike report commented, “Even in the context of covert action, ours was a cynical enterprise.”

On March 5, 1975, without advance word to either the United States government or the Kurds, the shah concluded his agreement with Iraq, which was announced the next day in Algiers during an OPEC session, and Iran abruptly pulled the plug on the Kurdish insurrection. The Pike report describes what followed:

“The insurgents were clearly taken by surprise. Their adversaries, knowing of the impending aid cut-off, launched an all-out search-and-destroy campaign the day after the agreement was signed. The autonomy movement was over and our former clients scattered before the central government’s superior forces.”

A message to the CIA from Kurdish headquarters said, “There is confusion and dismay among our people and forces. Our people’s fate in unprecedented danger. Complete destruction hanging over our head. No explanation for all of this . . . .”

The CIA station chief cabled Colby to warn that if the U.S. government did not “handle this situation deftly in a way which will avoid giving the Kurds the impression that we are abandoning them, they are likely to go public.”

Some 200,000 Kurds escaped into Iran, of whom 40,000 were forcibly returned to Iraq. Appeals for humanitarian assistance and for political asylum in the United States were ignored. The last message recorded in the report was an April 10, 1975, cable from the CIA station chief in Tehran to Colby, saying: “If senior Americans like Kissinger who are aware of their relationship do nothing to help the Kurds in their present extremity, we may be sure that they will not lie down quietly to be buried without telling their story to the world. Hence, even if nobody in the State Department or Dr. Kissinger cares what happens to the Kurds, they had better do something to help them, if only in USG and administration interest.”

The report tells what happened next: “Help never arrived.” It quotes a “high U.S. official” as having remarked to the committee’s staff, “Covert action should not be confused with missionary work.”

Kissinger later denounced the Pike report as “a collection of distortions and untruths.” Barzani, suffering from cancer, was eventually brought to the United States by the CIA and treated at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. He told me he had agreed not to speak out publicly against the U.S. government. He also feared for his compatriots who had taken refuge in Iran.

His last days were spent in a modest house in McLean. Before his death, in March 1979, he gave one interview — to New York Times columnist William Safire — in which Barzani said:

“We do not want to be anybody’s pawns. We are an ancient people. We want our autonomy. We want sarbasti — freedom. I do not know who will take my place one day. But they cannot crush us.”

Present during the interview was the general’s young son, Massoud, who, 12 years later, would be leading the Kurds into fruitless battle again. Daniel Schorr, currently senior news analyst for National Public Radio, was threatened with imprisonment in 1976 for contempt of Congress for refusing to disclose how he had obtained the suppressed Pike report.

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