RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Only a month after the Kurdish region of Iraq held an independence vote, the Kurds have lost most of their territory. And the president has announced he's stepping down. Masoud Barzani has been regional president for 12 years. And to many, he's been a revered Kurdish leader for decades. NPR's Jane Arraf reports from Erbil.
JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: It was just a month ago that Kurds were celebrating the results of a vote to pursue independence. It was historic. And it was to be part of Kurdish president Masoud Barzani's legacy. Instead, it's being called a historic miscalculation. Iraqi troops have now retaken the city of Kirkuk, oil fields and other territory from Kurdish Peshmerga forces.
On Sunday, Barzani sent a letter to parliament telling them he was resigning. He gave an emotional speech a few hours later and said the Iraqi government had planned the military moves even before the referendum. He says instead of being rewarded by the U.S. and other countries for pushing back ISIS three years ago, the Kurds were betrayed.
(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)
MASOUD BARZANI: (Through interpreter) When the Peshmerga destroyed the myth of ISIS, all the foreign delegations thanked and praised us. Retaking Mosul would not have been possible without the Peshmerga. So we thought the international community would reward us, and Iraq would be loyal to us.
ARRAF: Instead, he says Iranian-backed Iraqi forces attacked the Kurds using American tanks. Without naming names, he also painted a rival Kurdish party as traitors for agreeing to give up Kirkuk. This all turned a bit ugly at Parliament. A group of men with sticks attacked a television crew from an opposition group. On Kurdish television, another group of supporters called for death to the Iraqi prime minister and to a rival Kurdish leader.
Barzani's resignation is expected to pave the way for other Kurdish leaders to open talks with the Iraqi government. But it won't restore what the Kurds have lost. Jane Arraf, NPR News, Erbil.
(SOUNDBITE OF ABAJI'S "HOUBBI") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.