The liberation of Iraq propelled Iraqi Kurdistan into the international limelight. The Iraqi Kurdish militia plays an important role in Iraq; Iraq's president, Jalal Talabani, is a former Kurdish guerilla leader, and the Kurds have an important role in the new government's politics. The Iraqi Kurdish experience is now central to discussion over the fate of Baathist officials, and Kurdish demands remain at the heart of the debate over federalism.
Yildiz, executive director of the London-based Kurdish Human Rights Project, has compiled a guide better than many other surveys of Iraqi Kurdish history, society, and politics. The Kurds in Iraq is a valuable guide not only for the policy practitioner but also for the general reader who wants a clear, concise study to aid understanding of a people and a region increasingly in the news. Unlike many other authors on this subject, he neither indulges his emotions nor does he artificially extend backwards Kurdish nationalism. He is precise, noting that while the term "Kurd" first appeared in the seventh century C.E., it would be almost a millennium before the term "Kurdistan" entered common usage and even then with a lack of precision as to its boundaries. His narrative is exact. Yildiz details not only Washington's 1975 decision to withdraw support for the Kurdish uprising but also the often ignored 1974 Kurdish decision to turn down Baghdad's autonomy offer. He also gives context to Saddam Hussein's 1987-88 Anfal campaign and does not limit its discussion to its most famous episode, the March 1988 use of chemical weapons against civilians in Halabja.
While Yildiz emphasizes human rights and international legal responsibilities, he glosses over intra-Kurdish human rights abuses. There is no mention, for example, of the 2-3,000 Kurds executed during the 1994-97 Kurdish civil war, nor does he discuss Kurdistan Democratic Party leader Masud Barzani's appropriation of land and property from rival tribes, nor is there coverage of Iraqi Kurdistan's corruption problem. Small errors of fact mar the account. The Iran-Iraq war, for example, began in 1980, not 1983. Likewise, despite the nickname, the "Swiss dinar" currency used in Iraqi Kurdistan between 1991 and 2003 was printed in the United Kingdom and not in Switzerland.
Looking toward the future, Yildiz highlights conflicts over the death penalty likely to occur between the European states and the Iraqi Special Tribunal trying Saddam Hussein and other former top regime officials. He also questions the extent to which American and European civilians serving in the Coalition Provisional Authority and its successor organizations conform to international law. His background in humanitarian law contributes to some bias. He states that many "have called for the U.N. to take over administration of Iraq," something perhaps true among his human rights colleagues in London but certainly not among Iraqis, the vast majority of whom wish for a return to full sovereignty.