In the aftermath of the Gulf War in 1990-1991, Iraqi Kurds finally achieved real autonomy when the Coalition Forces led by the U.S. and U.K. enforced a no-fly zone in Iraqi Kurdistan. This prevented the Iraqi Government forces under Saddam Hussein to continue the genocide against the Kurds and allowed them to institute self-government.
In 1992, the Iraqi Kurdistan Front, an alliance of political parties, held parliamentary and presidential elections and established the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), a new autonomous Government of Kurdistan in Iraq. Although Kurds had been skilled at guerilla warfare throughout history, they were unprepared for self-government.
Iraqi Kurdistan Civil War
In 1994, a power-sharing arrangement between the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) fell apart, leading to civil war and two separate administrations in Erbil and Sulaymaniyah, respectively. Hostilities continued until 1998 when the PUK and KDP signed the US-negotiated Washington Agreement, ending the civil war.
In 2003, Americans invaded Iraq and the Kurdish Peshmerga joined in the fight to overthrow Saddam Hussein. After Hussein was driven from office, the Iraqis, in a national referendum, approved a new constitution. The new constitution re-formed the Kurdistan Regional Government.
The Kurdistan Regional Government
Like other nation-states in the region, Iraqi Kurdistan and the KRG were borne out of conflict and the protection of the major powers. The KRG is a Parliamentary Democracy within the federated Republic of Iraq. The KRG has legal jurisdiction over three provinces, Erbil, Duhok, and Sulaymaniyah. In the aftermath of the collapse of the Iraqi Army security in the region and the current occupation by ISIS forces, the KRG gained de facto jurisdiction over an additional three provinces, Diyala, Nineveh and Kirkuk,
The provisional constitution of the KRG, called the Provisional Constitution of the Federal Republic of Kurdistan, was written in 1996 with the help of Dr. Mehrdad Izady. The constitution established a unicameral parliament with 111 seats known as the Iraqi Kurdistan Parliament.
The President of Kurdistan is elected directly by the electorate of the region and is the head of the cabinet and chief of state who delegates executive powers to the cabinet. The President of Kurdistan is also the commander-in-chief of the Peshmerga Armed Forces of the KRG. The cabinet as well as the Prime Minister is appointed by the majority party.
The Prime Minister is traditionally the head of the legislative body but also shares executive powers with the president. Parliament creates and passes laws by a majority vote and the President has the power to veto any bill.
KRG and Iraq’s Oil Dispute
As stipulated by the Iraqi constitution, Iraq is divided into federal regions that handle their own domestic affairs while the Baghdad central government is responsible for international affairs. The single most controversial issue regarding federalism is oil. The KRG under Nechervan Barzani has signed several oil contracts with foreign states, including companies in the United States and China. According to Bloomberg L.P., if it were a country, the KRG would rank 10th amongst countries with the largest reserves. While the KRG asserts that such contracts are legal under Iraqi law and the constitution, it is disputed.
ISIS and Future Boundaries
One particularly difficult issue yet to be resolved is the future boundaries of the region. Many Kurds wish it to be expanded to include the largely Kurdish cities of Mosul and Kirkuk, but this is complicated by the Assyrian, Turkmen and Arab populations of both cities. It is further complicated by the staunch opposition of Turkey, which is concerned about the KRG’s potential to break away from Iraq (with possible consequences for Turkey’s own Kurdish minority).
With the ISIS invasion and occupation of large swathes of land in Iraqi Kurdistan as well as in Syria, any referendum or resolution of regional jurisdiction, boundaries and independence has been postponed. Moving forward, the biggest challenge for the KRG will be to provide its’ Peshmerga with sufficient resources and training to defend Iraqi Kurdistan against ISIS’ intention to establish an Islamic Caliphate in the region.