Magazine article Geographical

Iraqi Kurdistan

Magazine article Geographical

Iraqi Kurdistan

Article excerpt

The phrase 'never let a good crisis go to waste' has undoubtedly been a guiding principle for many a political leader over the years. And it seems appropriate when considering the situation in Iraqi Kurdistan. It appears that in the midst of the conflict and humanitarian suffering in Iraq and Syria, an independent Kurdistan could emerge.

In June, Iraq's future as a territorially integrated state was cast into doubt, as fighters attached to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS)--a splinter group from al-Qaeda known for its hardline anti-Shia sectarianism--began a co-ordinated offensive that led to the capture of large swathes of northern Iraq. As the Iraqi army melted away, Kurdish fighters stepped in to defend the important oil-producing centre of Kirkuk.

When later accused by the Baghdad authorities of sheltering ISIS fighters, Kurdish leaders pledged to boycott the government led by Nouri al-Maliki. In fact, they accused the Iraqi prime minister of using the 'sheltering' argument to deflect criticism of his government and its failure to rebuff the ISIS attacks. In July, the Kurdish president, Masoud Barzani, called for a referendum on independence in the face of fears that Iraq could be split into three parts: ISIS, Kurdish and a Shia-majority government based in Iraq.

At the moment, Kurdish Iraq is controlled by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), which was set up in the aftermath of the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. The 2005 Iraqi Constitution divided Iraq into a series of federal regions that are largely free to control their domestic affairs, with distinct rights, powers and revenue-raising capabilities.

Given the substantial natural resources in northern Iraq, the prospect of oil-related revenues funding a nascent Kurdistan is appealing to many Kurds living not only in Iraq but also in the neighbouring states of Iran, Syria and Turkey, and among the Kurdish Diaspora. In total, the Kurdish population is thought to number around 30 million people.

However, the prospect of an independent Kurdistan is particularly unwelcome in Turkey. The current government in Ankara doesn't refer to the KRG by that name, preferring 'the local administration in northern Iraq'.

With its long-standing experience of secessionist violence, revolts, terrorism and often-brutal state-sponsored repression, the modern history of Turkey is characterised by an uneasy coexistence between a Turkish majority and a substantial Kurdish minority, numbering roughly 11 million or about 16 per cent of Turkey's population. …

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