The Future of Kurdistan

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Kurdistan is a transnational patchwork quilt of territories spread across Turkey, Iran, Syria, and Iraq. Though only six million out of a total of 32 million Kurds live inside the current territorial borders of Iraq, these Kurds have achieved the greatest autonomy of any of their brethren. Saddam’s defeat in the 1991 Gulf War led him to withdraw his forces from much of present-day Iraqi Kurdistan. For over a decade prior to the 2003 invasion, the Iraqi Kurds ran their own UN-protected statelet, secured by the Kurdish fighters, the Peshmerga, and Coalition airpower, and funded by a UN-administered share of Saddam’s oil exports. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) even used a different currency from Saddam’s Iraq, relying mainly on old out-of-circulation Swiss-printed Iraqi dinar and U.S. dollars.

To understand what has happened in the KRG since 2003, and what will happen next, it is important to recognize that Iraqi Kurdistan has achieved a high level of autonomy during 1991-2003, and to view the post-2003 period as a trial-run at national reintegration. With U.S. prodding, the Kurds reentered Iraq’s economy, receiving a share of Iraqi oil revenues by mutual agreement with Baghdad rather than by UN mandate. Many areas claimed by the Kurds were jointly administered with the federal government.  For instance, some teachers and police were appointed and paid by the KRG and some by Baghdad.  Kurds were represented in the federal Iraqi government, parliament, and military.

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