The August 31 betrayal: Occupation of Hewlêr with Saddam's tanks

21 years have passed since the Masooud Barzani, who says that he will create a Kurdish state, invaded the city of Hewlêr with support from Iraqi dictator Saddam Huseyin.

21 years ago the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) under the leadership of Massoud Barzani invaded Hewlêr city with the tanks of Saddam. Saddam Hussein, who killed 182 thousand Kurds in the "Anfal Campaign" entered Hewlêr with tanks, cannons and heavy weapons on 31 August 1996 in response to KDP's invitation.

During that course, which the people of Southern Kurdistan refer to as the "August 31, betrayal", KDP gave the Kurdish parliament building to Saddam’s army and it was used as headquarters. 

During the Gulf War the 36th parallel north of Iraq was declared a no-fly zone.  Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK or YNK) initiated an operation to reclaim Hewlêr in 1992. PUK liberated the city and drove Baath regime forces out.

Following Hewlêr's liberation from the regime under the command of the PUK Politburo member Kosret Resul Eli, the city became the capital of Southern Kurdistan.


In 1996, amidst the turbulent developments in the region, Iraqi opposition led by Ahmet Chelebi worked together with the CIA on a plan to overthrow Saddam Hussein. However, US had some reservations about the plan. Former US president Bill Clinton, halted the plan due to the elections that were to take place in that same year. Another concern of US administration was; since most of the Iraqi oppositions were under Iranian influence the USA consequently feared that "Iraq could fall under the control of Iran.”


PUK Leader Jalal Talabani stated that they would support the plan to overthrow Saddam Hussein. Talabani worked on a plan to dispatch his forces from the north to Hewlêr, to take over the city Kirkuk and isolate it from Mosul.

But as the USA was not truly interested in the plans of the opposition, Ahmet Chelebi stopped all preparations. However, after Jalal Talabani openly set an eye on Kirkuk city. Iraq's oppositions concluded that after Kirkuk's conquest they would go for Mosul as well. And with the fall of those two cities, they will regain the support of the USA.

In August Jalal Talabani, launched the operation to capture Kirkuk. The swift advance of the Peshmerga forces even baffled the CIA. But a crisis was in the making. The General President of the KDP Massoud Barzani sent on 22 August a letter to Saddam Hussein, inviting him to invade Hewlêr.


In his letter Barzani called the murderer of the 182 000 Kurds Saddam Hussein "My President" and said: "My dear Mr. President, you have to find with your success and your mind a solution for Iran's intervention into Iraq (...) We request and plead with Your Grace to command the Iraqi army to enter Hewlêr against the foreign powers who are causing threats and against the collaborating betrayal of Jalal Talabani."

According to the agreement with Saddam Hussein "the Iraqi army would to help Barzani in his conquest of Hewlêr city, and Barzani would in return support Saddam Hussein in clamping down all Iraqi oppositions in South Kurdistan."

After the Barzani-Saddam agreement was reached, the Iraqi army entered the city Hewlêr with 150 tanks and 30 thousand soldiers. Heavy clashes broke out as they approached the city. After the KDP forces captured 13 PUK peshmergas on the way to Hewlêr-Giwêr alive and shot them all dead, conflicts erupted in several regions, especially in the Aynkawa neighborhood. In total 450 people have been killed and 200 others injured.


On the 31st August, Barzani held a meeting with the KDP politburo member Fazil Mirani and President of Parliament Cewher Namik Salim. Barzani said that they allied with the Baath regime to capture Hewlêr and have cleansed the city of members of the PUK. Cewher Namik, said that Barzani’s acts are 'betrayal'. The crisis between Cewher Namik Salim and Barzani started there.


Barzani, who is saying today: "There is now nothing that we have in common with Iraq, I will establish an independent Kurdish state", stated after the 31st of August in a press conference: "We are Kurds, we are Iraqis. There might be some minor issues between us and Iraq. But our common point is the protection of Iraq. There are external threats hovering on us. Since the USA and the West did not give us any support whatsoever, we were forced to ask the central government for help."


Before the 31st August 1996, the cities Sulaymaniyah, Hewlêr, part of Halabja, Ranya, Qeladiz, the Kandil region, Pencewîn and many other areas were in the hands of the PUK. The KDP had only some influence in Duhok, Zaxo, Soran and a part of Halabja. According to the figures, only 30 percent of Southern Kurdistan's territory was under the control of the KDP. But after the betrayal of August 31, the area the KDP gained control over rose to 60 percent.