Henry Kissinger, the infamous US Secretary of State during the Cold War, died at his home in Connecticut on Wednesday at the age of 100.
A key adviser to US presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, Kissinger rose to prominence during the Nixon administration. Kissinger’s approach to the Kurds is part of his notorious legacy.
During the eight years from 1969 to 1976, when Henry Kissinger shaped the foreign policy of Nixon and Ford as National Security Advisor and Secretary of State, the consequences of Kissinger’s actions led to the deaths of some three to four million people, according to Greg Grandin, a historian at Yale University.
These included both “crimes of commission”, such as in Cambodia and Chile, and acts of omission, such as approving Indonesia’s violence in East Timor, supporting Pakistan’s actions in Bangladesh, and beginning a regrettable American tradition of using and then abandoning the Kurds.
Despite controversies, including his involvement in anti-communist coups in Latin America, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1973.
Kissinger’s influence extended to the Middle East, particularly the Kurdish region in the 1970s. Faced with the Soviet-Iraqi alliance, the US saw the Kurds as a strategic asset. The context was shaped by Iraq’s recent friendship treaty with the Soviet Union, signed on 9 April 1972. By supporting the Kurds, it was believed that both Iraq and the Soviets would be preoccupied, reducing the likelihood of action against Iraq’s neighbours.
The Iraqi Kurds subsequently received military support from Iran, then ruled by the US-allied Shah, and substantial financial and arms aid from the United States. The support proved temporary, however, and the US abruptly withdrew its aid after the Ba’athist regime weakened.
Following the withdrawal of American aid, a wave of violence spread through the Kurdish regions of Iraq, with the Ba’athist regime systematically attacking the Kurdish population, resulting in the killing of hundreds of thousands of civilians. According to Kurdish sources, some 182,000 mostly unarmed Kurdish civilians were murdered.
Following criticism of Kissinger’s stance, he defended the perceived betrayal in congressional testimony, stating: “Covert action should not be confused with missionary work”.