Who are the Kurds?

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As U.S. forces launched missiles into Iraq in retaliation for attacks on Kurd cities, the Kurds remain just as far from realizing their fleeting dream of statehood and continue to be used as pawns in the larger political maneuverings of the region. An estimated 20 million Kurds live in the mountainous regions where the borders of Syria, Turkey, Iran and Iraq meet. The 2,000-year Kurd history has been plagued by feuds and infighting that have left Kurds, the world's largest ethnic group that has been unable to achieve statehood, vulnerable to outside meddling. Throughout this century, the Kurds have unsuccessfully waged rebellions lasting decades against the governments of Turkey, Iraq and Iran but their lack of unity always undermined their purpose. The Iran-Iraq war during the 1980s only made matters worse. During the bloody 8-year conflict, Iraq supported the Iranian Kurds opposed to Ayatollah Khomeini and Iran, in turn, supported the Iraqi Kurds opposed to Saddam Hussein. Throughout, Saddam's regime waged a merciless war on Kurds, including the notorious chemical weapons attack on the northern Iraqi city of Halabiya in 1988. The Kurds united in rebellion against the Iraqi regime in 1991, shortly after the end of the Gulf War, when the Western powers established an enclave where 4 million Kurds would be protected from Saddam. But even as the allied forces protected the Kurdish enclave in northern Iraq, the Kurds, true to their history, resumed fighting amongst themselves two years ago. Again, their infighting left them vulnerable to outside interference and Saddam's desire to take control of all Iraq's territory.--Lamia Abu-Haidar