Three governorates in the north--Dahuk, Irbil, and As Sulaymaniyah--constitute Iraqi Kurdistan, a region that historically has had a majority population of Kurds. Ever since Iraq became independent in 1932, the Kurds have demanded some form of self-rule in the Kurdish areas. There were clashes between Kurdish antigovernment guerrillas and army units throughout most of the 1960s. When the Baath Party came to power in July 1968, the principal Kurdish leaders distrusted its intentions and soon launched a major revolt. In March 1970, the government and the Kurds reached an agreement, to be implemented within four years, for the creation of an Autonomous Region consisting of the three Kurdish governorates and other adjacent districts that haf been determined by census to have a Kurdish majority. Although the RCC issued decrees in 1974 and in 1975 that provided for the administration of the Autonomous Region, these were not acceptable to all Kurdish leaders and a major war ensued. The Kurds were eventually crushed, but guerrilla activities continued in parts of Kurdistan. In early 1988, antigovernment Kurds controlled several hundred square kilometers of Irbil and As Sulaymaniyah governorates adjacent to the Iranian frontier.
In early 1988, the Autonomous Region was governed according to the stipulations of the 1970 Autonomy Agreement. It had a twelve-member Executive Council that wielded both legislative and executive powers and a Legislative Assembly that advised the council. The chairman of the Executive Council was appointed by President Saddam Husayn and held cabinet rank; the other members of the council were chosen from among the deputies to the popularly elected Legislative Assembly.
The Legislative Assembly consisted of fifty members elected for three-year terms from among candidates approved by the central government. The Legislative Assembly chose its own officers, including its cabinet-rank chairman, a deputy chairman, and a secretary. It had authority to ratify laws proposed by the Executive Council and limited powers to enact legislation relating to the development of "culture and nationalist customs of the Kurds" as well as other matters of strictly local scope. The Legislative Assembly could question the members of the Executive Council concerning the latter's administrative, economic, educational, social, and other varied responsibilities; it could also withhold a vote of confidence from one or more of the Executive Council members. Both the assembly and the council were located in the city of Irbil, the administrative center of Irbil Governorate. Officials of these two bodies were either Kurds or "persons well-versed in the Kurdish language," and Kurdish was used for all official communications at the local level. The first Legislative Assembly elections were held in September 1980, and the second elections took place in August 1986.
Despite the Autonomous Region's governmental institutions, genuine self-rule did not exist in Kurdistan in 1988. The central government in Baghdad continued to exercise tight control by reserving to itself the power to make all decisions in matters pertaining to justice, to police, to internal security, and the administration of the frontier areas. The Baath Party, through the minister of state for regional autonomy and other ministerial representatives operating in the region, continued to supervise activities of all governing bodies in the region. The minister of justice and a special oversight body set up by the Court of Cassation reviewed all local enactments and administrative decisions, and they countermanded any local decrees that were deemed contrary to the "constitution, laws, or regulations" of the central government. The central government's superior authority has been most dramatically evident in the frontier areas, where government security units have forcibly evacuated Kurdish villagers to distant lowlands.
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