In the early 1970s, the Ba'athists, still uncertain about their hold on power, went much further than their predecessors in recognizing those demands --offering a substantial degree of self-government and recognizing the Kurds' separate identity in a new Provisional Constitution.
That constitution is still in force, and Baghdad still maintains the fiction that "its" autonomous region, with its own Kurdish administration, is in force.
As Iraqi government troops fell back in the face of advancing allied troops and Kurdish peshmerga fighters, returning along with civilian refugees from the Turkish and Iranian borders, it became evident that Baghdad's long-standing ban on access to the Kurdish region by independent investigators had been broken -- by force majeure.
How long the window of opportunity would stay open no one could predict. For the Iraqi Kurds, their future as an often-threatened minority as well as their lives are at risk.
After 1986, both the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), the two major parties, received support from the Iranian government and sometimes took part in joint military raids against Iraqi government positions; the KDP also had a rear base inside Iran.
That Baghdad was entitled to engage in counterinsurgency action, to wrest control over Iraq's northeast border region and much of the mountainous interior from rebels, is undisputed.
Indeed, the Anfal cannot be understood without an awareness of the half century of Kurdish armed struggle against the central government of Iraq, through various political regimes.
As of this writing, a severe economic squeeze, resulting from a combination of UN sanctions against Iraq and an internal blockade imposed by government forces, threatens to produce mass starvation among the 3.5 million inhabitants of the Kurdish rebel-controlled enclave.
Government troops massed along a ceasefire line could easily reconquer the region before the West had a chance to come to the Kurds' aid.
Allegations about enormous abuses against the Kurds by government security forces had been circulating in the West for years before the events of 1991; Kurdish rebels had spoken of 4,000 destroyed villages and an estimated 182,000 disappeared persons during 1988 alone.
The phenomenon of the Anfal, the official military codename used by the government in its public pronouncements and internal memoranda, was well known inside Iraq, especially in the Kurdish region.
Rather, these Kurds were systematically put to death in large numbers on the orders of the central government in Baghdad -- days, sometimes weeks, after being rounded-up in villages marked for destruction or else while fleeing from army assaults in "prohibited areas".