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Volume 3 - Issue 6, June 2013

The Evolving Situation in Kurdistan Conflicts, National Identities and Regional Perspectives No other region in the Middle East has experienced more profound and positive changes in recent history than the Kurdish region of Northern Iraq. As a group that has been fighting for autonomy for most of its existence, Kurdish issues are quickly gaining more recognition on the international stage. Recently, the region has seen several major advances in its cause and now maintains an autonomous government in Northern Iraq while becoming an important player in regional affairs.

A Kurdish Flag Flying Over a Village Outside Kirkuk (Photo: APA)


In regards to all of the major conflicts currently shaping our world, the Kurdish situation is one that will play a major role in the outcome of Middle Eastern politics and stability.

The Kurdistan Region of Iraq - An International Success From the beginning of Kurdish de facto independence, spurred by the no-fly zone in 1991, institutional stability and regional cooperation prospered in Kurdistan. Shilan Dosky explores the history of the Kurdish community in Iraq while also illustrating the opportunities for

In this issue of Atlantic Voices, the

future advancement.

Kurdish question will be analyzed in depth with respect to the history and future of

The Kurdistan Regional Government: Between the Syrian Crisis

the conflict, bringing to light the many

and the Role of Turkey

facets of this complicated region. Matteo Bressan discusses the current problems facing the Kurdish population; mainly the

By: Cassandra Lewis

Syrian crisis, energy issues and relations with Ankara. Bressan illustrates how these situations can be navigated to benefit the future of the Kurdish community.

Atlantic Voices, Volume 3, Issue 6


The Kurdistan Region of Iraq: An International Success For decades, the Kurds had dreamed of an

by Shilan Dosky


n March 1991, following the expulsion of

autonomous region within the borders of Iraq to

Iraqi troops from Kuwait (Operation Desert

govern their own affairs; several armed revolutions

Storm) by a UN-authorised international

against the modern Iraqi state since the early 20th

coalition led by the United States, the Kurds in the

century had failed due to severe repression from

North revolted against Saddam Hussein’s regime

the Iraqi authorities. Since the beginning of Kurdish

while Shia Arabs launched similar uprisings in the

self-rule in 1991, however, they have seized the

South. The rebellion was ruthlessly crushed by the

opportunity to create strong foundations of a pros-

Iraqi Republican Guard - an elite unit under the for-

perous and powerful region in the heart of the Mid-

mer regime, forcing over 1.5

dle East.

million Kurds to flee to neigh-

The transition in the

bouring Turkey and Iran for fear

Kurdistan region progressed

of chemical attacks.

rapidly from the implementaRepublican

tion of the no-fly zone to hold-

Guard quelled unrest by execut-

ing free and fair parliamentary

ing thousands of Shia Arabs,

elections in May 1992. The



while Iraqi helicopters bombard-

Masoud Barzani. (Photo: Associated Press)

ed the Kurdistan Region with heavy artillery.

two Kurdish political parties –

Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Patriotic

A month later, the United Nations passed

Union of Kurdistan (PUK), later formed a coalition

resolution 688 – calling on Saddam Hussein to end

government. After successive elections and peace-

his repressions against civilian populations. During

ful transitions of power, the 111-seat parliament

this time, several founding NATO members estab-

today includes eleven reserved seats for minorities

lished no-fly zones north of the 36th parallel to pro-

- Christians, Turkmen and Yezidis, and includes a

tect the Kurdish people in the three provinces of

30% minimum quota for women. The current leg-

Duhok, Erbil and Slemani. This Western protec-

islature is 38% female.

tion also drew in significant humanitarian aid from

Women’s Rights and Empowerment

the international community for Kurds in border-

The structure and laws in most Middle East-

ing countries in what later became known as the

ern countries reflect their historical traditions, cul-

world’s largest humanitarian mission. The Kurds,

ture, religious values and principles – often afford-

constantly betrayed by historical agreements be-

ing limited rights and protection to women. This

tween powerful states, had unexpectedly created a

difficult environment has been another challenging

de-facto reality on the ground through the no-fly

element for the Kurdish region with respect to ful-

zone, allowing the Kurdish people to enjoy unprec-

ly promoting social and political integration of

edented peace and a large degree of self-

women, including bringing an end to honour kill-


ings and violence against women. The Kurdish parliament passed a law in 2002

Atlantic Voices, Volume 3, Issue 6


that identifies honour killings as murder, punisha-

ceived 13% of the annual revenues, enabling them

ble by a 20-25 year prison sentence.

to rapidly reconstruct the region that was systemi-

In 2008, the parliament adopted a new Per-

cally targeted and destroyed throughout the 20th

sonal Status Law that outlawed polygamy in any

century. Today, this quota has been increased to

case except where the wife consents to her hus-

17%, although the authorities in Baghdad deduct

band taking a second wife.

sovereign expenditures before allocating the Kurd-

Later in 2011, another law (Family Violence) was approved by the Kurdistan Parliament. This bill includes several other internationallyrecognised forms of violence against women, including female genital mutilation, forced marriages, child abuse, verbal, physical, psychological and sexual abuse.

ish share – another disagreement between Kurdish authorities and the federal government. The new political and economic developments in the semi-autonomous

Kurdish authorities then rigorously worked toward establishing security institutions loyal to the people.

Kurdistan Region of Iraq began on the peaceful evening of April 17, 2003 following the US-led ‘Shock and Awe’ military campaign on key commu-

These steps have been hailed by the international community and by non-

nication installations of the former regime. It was

government organisations as a sign of democratic

then that Kurdish authorities embarked on grand,

progress. But much still remains to be done de-

plausible plans for a flourishing and powerful re-

spite the notable success rates since the introduc-

gion built on the sturdy foundation that the loyal

tion of these laws.

Peshmergas fighters had succeeded in establishing

Building The Foundations

in 1991.

Kurdish authorities then rigorously worked

Another international coalition was march-

toward establishing security institutions loyal to

ing its way to Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein and

the people and restructured the largely politically-

his party from power in 2003 – also known as the

based Peshmerga military wings – now officially

Coalition of the Willing. Iraq was to retake its

known as the Kurdistan Regional Guards. Further-

rightful place in the international community as a

more, with protection from key western powers,

living democratic example of the greater Middle

the region housed key Iraqi opposition parties

East. However, the Kurdish people were weary

which pressed the international community to

that an Iraq too powerful may also threaten to re-

overthrow Saddam Hussein and his now-outlawed

vive the bloody attacks against them - acts they

Baath Party.

vowed to prevent at all costs.

The Kurdish movement received more

The Kurdish leadership, then led by Masoud

promising news from the international communi-

Barzani, son of the historic leader Mustafa Barzani

ty. Once the UN Security Council passed crippling

and President of the ruling Kurdistan Democratic

sanctions against Iraq for its invasion of Kuwait,

Party, ingeniously shifted policy towards partici-

they began the Oil-For-Food Programme – allow-

pation by working alongside the international

ing Iraq to sell its oil for food, medicine and hu-

community in the new Iraq, rightfully calculating

manitarian aid only. For the first time in Kurdish

that the Kurds would be the primary ally in terms

history, they would reap the benefits of Iraqi oil

of mitigating the mistakes of the past. Backed by a

revenues. Based on historical data, the Kurds reAtlantic Voices, Volume 3, Issue 6


strong Peshmerga force, Kurds fought alongside

work on international recognition for their pivotal


role in the makeup of Iraq.

troops to expel forces loyal to Saddam

Hussein in neighbouring Arab provinces, particu-

Masoud Barzani, following his appointment as President of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, was

larly in Ninewa. The defining moment for the Kurdish cause

soon on his way to being received in leading capi-

followed the creation of the Coalition Provisional

tals as a Head of State. This interaction with the

Authority (CPA) - a US-installed transitional ad-

international community pushed the Kurdish state

ministration responsible for the daily affairs of the

to new levels – encouraging countries to form di-

Iraqi state in 2004, when Masoud Barzani and Jalal

rect ties with the Kurdish Regional Government

Talabani – Secretary General of the Patriotic Un-

but under the framework of the Iraqi Constitution,

ion of Kurdistan, both held the rotating Presidency

which had been voted in with an overwhelming

of the Governing Council. Their appointment


marked the first Kurdish President of the Iraqi Re-

Kurdish authorities were able to deliver a

public; once again the Kurdish community began

promising message to the international community

receiving the benefits of being part of this new-

while Iraq witnessed new sectarian tensions

born country. Today, the Kurdish leadership is

amongst Sunni and Shia Arabs in the rest of the

convinced that they had made the right decision.

country. This region, home to over five million

The transformation of the Kurdish situation

Kurds, continues to be the safest area in Iraq; sub-

out of a tragic history to becoming key stakehold-

ject to no car bombs, ethnic attacks and behead-

ers in the Iraqi transition continued to fuel enthusi-

ings which parts of Iraq still bear. The regions

asm for Kurdish partici-

skilled and loyal security

pation in government.

forces have an unyielding

Kurdish involvement in

grip on its borders and are

drafting Iraq’s new con-

committed to maintaining

stitution in 2005, which

stability on the ground.

stipulates Iraq as a feder-

Stability has been

al, pluralistic and demo-

the catalyst to the region’s

cratic state, led to recog-




economic development. In

autonomous Kurdish re-

fact, the Kurdistan Re-

gion as well as Kurdish

gional Government later






Kurdish Parliament (Photo: Kurdish Herald)

political and

began opening internation-

Similarly, in Iraq's first parliamentary elections,

al airports, providing the locals and its large dias-

the Kurdish leadership became kingmakers, allow-

pora community with direct flights to and from

ing them to form an inclusive government and as-

the region; diplomatic missions later established a

sume the Presidential post as well as several other

presence in Erbil as governments and businesses

key positions, including the Deputy Premiership

began moving away from Baghdad due to instabil-

and Foreign Ministry. The new dynamics allowed

ity and deadly internal fighting in 2006-2007.

them to further advance their own region through

But it wasn’t enough as the Kurdish authori-

the 17% revenues received from Baghdad, and

ties realized that providing stability would simply

Atlantic Voices, Volume 3, Issue 6

mark the beginning of the next step.


Disputed Territories

puted territories – bypassing the local security ap-

Since the creation of Iraq in the 20th century,

paratuses and the combined security mechanisms

several conflicts have taken place between Kurds

between Baghdad and Erbil. These tensions have

and successive Iraqi governments. In 1970, Kurdish

also delayed the provincial elections on 20th April

leaders signed an autonomy agreement with the

2013 for Kirkuk.

Iraqi government led by the Baath Party that was designed to provide an autonomous region over the three provinces as well as other adjacent, Kurdish-

Differences over the

The Kurdish leadership in Erbil does not see willingness from Baghdad to address their concerns.

majority areas that would be

disputed territories is just one of many items the Kurdish region is discussing with Baghdad, the other issues include but are not limited to

determined by census. The Iraqi government, how-

incorporating the Kurdistan Regional Guards,

ever, recognised the Kurdish majority in the oil-

more commonly known as Peshmerga, into the

rich areas of Kirkuk, Khanaqin and others, and con-

Iraqi National Defence System.

sequently began an unparalleled policy to redraw

Economic and Political Developments

borders of provinces and relocate Arabs into key

The two governments still viciously disagree

areas, notably in Kirkuk. This Arabiation campaign

on tax coffers from border crossings into Kurdi-

was designed to tip any census into Arab favour.

stan, including from the Ibrahim Khaleel border

Since 2003, one of the key Kurdish demands

crossing with Turkey. Another key obstacle for the

is for the Arabisation campaign to be reversed and

region has been the integration of the KRG repre-

for these areas to come back under Kurdish control

sentations into the Iraqi Diplomatic Missions. To-

through a proper census and referendum. It was

day, the KRG has 14 official representations that

essential that this demand be in the CPA Transi-

work closely with the Iraqi Embassies. The Kurd-

tional Administrative Law (TAL), calling for the

ish administration has also established their own

return of Kurdish families that had been forcefully

Department of Foreign Relations to spearhead ties

removed from the area and that their assets be re-

with the international community.

stored. This was repeated in Iraq’s 2005 Constitu-

These issues remain unresolved since the

tion under Article 140, calling for normalisation,

overthrow of the former regime. The Kurdish

which requires a census to be conducted and a ref-

leadership in Erbil does not see willingness from

erendum to decide on the fate of Kirkuk and other

Baghdad to address their concerns. The recent,

Kurdish areas.

pressing matter for the Kurdish people and gov-

The recent political and security tensions

ernment has been harsh disagreements over the oil

around disputed territories, however, have led to

and gas policies of the country as a whole. In 2007,

the mobilisation of tens of thousands of troops from

after years of tethering Kurdish prosperity to re-

the Iraqi Federal Government and the Kurdistan

luctant and bickering officials in Baghdad, Kurdi-

Regional Government. The concentration of mili-

stan Parliament passed a progressive Oil and Gas

tary presence was largely due to Baghdad’s unilat-

Law that is in line with Iraq’s Constitution. This

eral decision to create the unconstitutional and

law, hailed by international lawyers and observers,

overarching Dijla Operations Command Centre to

attracted dozens of small-medium sized Interna-

oversee security operations in and around the dis-

tional oil and gas companies to unearth what is

Atlantic Voices, Volume 3, Issue 6


now known as one of the most oil rich areas in

icies, is underpinned by the Federal Government’s

the world.

exclusive right to manage and develop the indus-

The headlines of large oil and gas discoveries

try. However, Iraq’s Constitution only identifies

soon enticed major global energy companies to

foreign, monetary and defence policies as exclu-

sign concessions with the regional authorities.

sive areas of the Federal Government.

These companies are convinced, along with the

Oil production in Iraq prior to 2003 was

consensus in Kurdistan, that the contracts are in

just over 2.5 million barrels a day. Almost 10

line with the Constitution and represent an oppor-

years on and Iraq barely peaks above 3 million.

tunity for Iraq as a whole.

This vibrant region, however, has taken produc-

The key difference be-

tion from virgin land to

tween the Production Sharing

250,000 barrels a day in just

Contracts (PSCs) that the re-

over 5 years and has the ca-

gion signed and Baghdad’s

pability to export over 1 mil-

Technical Contracts concerns

lion barrels by 2015. Exports

the proven fields and the risks

through the Iraqi pipelines

these companies take on when

have ceased due to non-

operating in Iraq. The con-

payments from the Iraqi au-

tracts in the rest of Iraq are

thorities to the oil and gas

more appropriate for proven

companies operating in Kur-

fields when the companies take

distan, squandering Iraq bil-

little risk – their key goal is to

lions in annual revenues.

increase production from these

In all Kurdish exports,

existing fields. Our PSCs, on

83% of the revenues are for-

the other hand, provide im-

warded on to the Iraqi Feder-

proved incentives once there is

al Government - in line with

a discovery; however the com-

the Iraqi Constitution. Based

panies spend millions finding a

on this legal and constitution-

new discovery - taking a huge

al framework, the Kurdish


authorities continue to call Iraq’s Constitution is

Areas of under KRG control. (Credit: RAND)

on the Iraqi Government to

very clear about the country’s natural resources

pay the oil and gas companies

belonging to the Iraqi people, but stipulates that it

the costs and profits. These calls remain unheeded,

is up to the governorates and regional authorities.

forcing Kurdish authorities to close the taps.

The existing fields shall be managed in coordina-

This long-standing power struggle over au-

tion with the Federal Government in Baghdad.

thority has forced the Kurdish government to ex-

The irony, of course, is that the Kurds have openly

plore other avenues, including ways of breaking

welcomed Baghdad’s involvement in the develop-

away from financial dependence on Baghdad.

ment of the region’s hydrocarbons industry, but

Payments from Baghdad form a broader

the Iraqi authorities flatly reject it. Their argu-

conflict regarding state expenditures and the per-

ment, based on previous Saddam Hussein-like pol-

centage the region should receive.

Atlantic Voices, Volume 3, Issue 6


Kurdistan is entitled to 17% of Iraq’s reve-

dad, to open diplomatic missions in Erbil. The

nue based on history, population data, and is a fig-

region’s booming capital is currently home to 27

ure that is commonly believed should increase to

foreign representatives, many of which assist with

at least 20%. The


Iraqi authorities,

to and from


the region and







the region’s share

pendent pro-

of the revenue

jects in Kurdi-

and occasionally


send it in instal-


ments. In fact, on

missions, who




stan received less


than 11% over

around Kurdish Nationalists Rally North of Baghdad, Iraq. (Photo: Reuters)

the past several


trouble in

Baghdad, have

years as Iraq continues to deduct sovereign ex-

settled well into the communities in Kurdistan.

penses, including costs for advanced weapons,

They hold regular meetings with religious and

while refusing to supply the Kurdistan Regional

tribal leaders and engage in community develop-

Guards with adequate, light weapons to protect

ment projects among other practices. This stability

their borders. Furthermore, the Iraqi authorities

offered in Kurdistan in contrast to the daily bomb-

have deliberately excluded the Kurdish brigades

ings in Iraqi provinces has encouraged minorities

from receiving training and equipment. This has

to flee prosecution, kidnappings, lootings and

further alienated the Kurdish people and authorities. How can the international community expect them to trust Baghdad again? The majority of Kurdish

bombings in the rest of Iraq by

The majority of Kurdish criticism of the Federal Government is in regards to their strategic policy-making.

criticism of the Federal Govern-

coming to Kurdistan. Further distancing the region from the anarchy and sectarian violence from Iraq, foreign governments routinely specify Kurdistan when

ment is in regards to their strategic policy-making.

giving travel advice, underlining the safety and

They do not feel that they are genuine partners in

prosperity the region is experiencing.

the administration of the country or in its strategic

Over the past several years, Christian and

agreements with foreign governments. Baghdad,

other minorities have been intentionally targeted

in fact, has encouraged a few western governments

and killed in Iraq, forcing tens of thousands of fam-

to side with its Saddam-like policies rather than

ilies to seek refuge in Kurdistan. Following strong

encourage investment for the betterment of Iraq.

support from the international community,

De-Facto Region

the leadership began providing housing, schools





and jobs to those fleeing the instability in Iraq.

directly encouraged foreign governments, mostly

However, despite continued calls from the senior

those which already have representations in Bagh-

leadership in Erbil, the authorities in Baghdad re-

Atlantic Voices, Volume 3, Issue 6



fuse to provide any material or financial support.

edy their situations through dialogue and peaceful

The peaceful atmosphere has led to a sub-

means. In Iraq, the Kurds will continue to

stantial increase in direct flights to Erbil and

strengthen the democratic process and work to

Slemani international airports. As a sign of grow-

encourage neighbouring countries to address dif-

ing confidence in the local market and its stability,

ferences with their own Kurdish community

the US administration recently lifted a ban on

It is in the opinion of this author that the

commercial flights to both Kurdish airports while

Kurdish leadership in Iraqi Kurdistan is already

snubbing Iraqi airports due to violence.

playing a key role in this greater endeavour, and

Peaceful co-existence amongst the commu-

success is visible. Turkey, a nation with well-

nities in Kurdistan strengthens this position and

known, historical aggressions against its internal

democratic experience. Today, visitors find

Kurdish minority has began peace talks with the

mosques and churches standing side by side, as

Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) to resolve a conflict

well as temples and religious architecture belong-

that has cost the lives of 40,000 over almost four

ing to the Yazidi sect. There is genuine freedom of

decades. The peace process will, hopefully, bring

religion and movement throughout the region,

an end to the hostilities and create more security

making for a truly unique experience.

on NATOs border with the Kurdistan Region.

Security and stability is not the only element

The peace talks are part of Turkey’s bigger

that makes Kurdistan distinct from Iraq. There are

initiative to offer more rights to the Kurds in Tur-

particular differences in the realm of foreign policy

key and revise its constitution.

– including the case of Syria. This difference does

More importantly, though, the KRG’s

not necessarily mean Kurds are seeking independ-

stance on Syria is in line with Turkey’s. Syria is

ence or threatening the territorial integrity of Iraq.

home to over 2.5 million Kurds, representing over

Financially, the region is better off by staying with-

10% of their population. Similar to Turkey, the

in a united Iraq than seeking sovereignty within the

Kurds in Syria do not enjoy state privileges and

borders of Iraq.

many are denied citizenship. The bloody revolu-

Nonetheless, finance is not the only obstacle

tion in Syria, though, has opened new opportuni-

to an independent Kurdistan. The region is land-

ties for the local Kurds to be part of democratic

locked. History has been cruel to the Kurds, forc-

change. The Kurds in Syria, united under the

ing the Kurdish people to be very cautious in their

Kurdish National Council, an umbrella represent-

policy development.

ing 16 Kurdish political factions, are holding nego-

Kurdish people in Iraq and neighbouring

tiations with the Syrian opposition about the future

countries have, for decades, suffered at the hands

makeup of Syria.

of greater powers. Basic rights have been neglect-

Looking Ahead

ed. Their history in Iraq is filled with persecution,

By and large, the Kurdish movement in Iraq

massacres, kidnappings and exclusion from many,

has undoubtedly contributed towards more inter-

standard walks of life. But claiming unilateral inde-

national awareness of the Kurdish people. The

pendence will not resolve a conflict that has exist-

shift from a revolutionary movement fighting suc-

ed for over a century. The goal, then, is to encour-

cessive Iraqi governments since its establishment in

age the Kurdish populations in neighbouring coun-

the early 20th century to a powerful region in the

tries to be part of the democratic process and remAtlantic Voices, Volume 3, Issue 6


heart of the Middle East was perhaps unforeseeable decades ago.

The future of this small region is looking very bright.

The key challenge facing Kurdish leaders today, is to address the growing demands of the

Shilan Dosky is an advisor on European Affairs at the

people, such as tackling corruption by promoting

Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) Department of

further transparency and accountability; protecting

Foreign Relations. Her views may not reflect the policies

and empowering human rights; improving health

of the KRG or any affiliated political party.

and education services, and adopting more concrete measures to combat violence against women

About the author

and further advance freedom of expression. Polls

Shilan Dosky holds a Batchelors Degree in Political Science. She was Head of Kurdistan Womens' Union in Europe (2007-2012) and served as the International Representative for the Kurdistan Democratic Youth Union (2010-2012), representing the latter to the International Youth Democratic Union (IYDU). She moved to the Netherlands in 1995, and has been active in local politics since 2002. After spending 17 years in the Netherlands, she returned to her homeland in 2012 to join the KRG Department of Foreign Relations.

have indicated that these are important and pressing matters for the people, and will be integral to supporting the newly established democracy and uniting the people behind the leadership. The region’s leadership and their ability to concede to local opposition parties will be a key contributing factor. The opposition controls over a quarter of the regional parliament and attempts to hold the government and leadership accountable to the public despite their lack of experience in playing the important role as an opposition. In fact, on numerous occasions, the opposition has demonstrated itself as an immature and dim-witted movement in parliamentary and public debates, but nonetheless has aided the region’s young democratic experience. With this in mind, the fact remains that a large portion of the electorate have become disillusioned with the ruling parties and thus voted for others that ran on a campaign challenging the status quo.

Bibliography Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). “Contemporary History”. 2013 Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). “Natural History”. 2013 Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). “International expert finds KRG oil contracts “in the national interests”, “far superior” for Iraq than model contract proposed by Baghdad federal oil ministry”. 2013 Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). “Oil and gas rights of regions and governorates”. 13 June 2006. Invest in Group. “The Review”. Kurdistan Region of Iraq. March 2013. Department of Foreign Relations. KRG. “Current International Office in the Kurdistan Region”. 2013. Department of Foreign Relations. KRG. “KRG offices abroad”. 2013.

Unity across the Iraqi Kurdistan region will

Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). “Kurdistan Oil and Gas Law”. 2013.

lead to more successful relations with the Iraqi

Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). “UN Security Council Resolution 688 (1991)”. 9 March, 2004.

Federal Government as well as the international

Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). “Constitution of Iraq”. 15 Oct. 2005.

community. This small region has already become the home to millions of Kurds who have fought for

International Crisis Group. “Iraq and the Kurds: The Struggle over Kirkuk”. Jan. 2010.

decades to govern their own affairs, and thousands

International Crisis Group. “Iraq and the Kurds: The Brewing Battle Over Kirkuk”. 18 July, 2006.

from the Kurdish diaspora who have abandoned their lives abroad to be part of this historical juncture.

Atlantic Voices, Volume 3, Issue 6

The Air University. United States Air Force. “Coalition Provisional Authority: Law of Administration for the State of Iraq for the Transitional Period”. 8 March 2004. Kurdistan Parliament. Legislation. 9

The Kurdistan Regional Government: Between the Syrian Crisis and the Role of Turkey ocratic Party, and the strong economic relationship with

by Matteo Bressan


largely autonomous region with its own

Turkey make Iraqi Kurdistan a strategic area for precarious

Parliament, army, flag, language, and

regional balances.

economy (with a big wealth of oil wells), is

It’s not by chance that the relationship with Bagh-

now the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in 2013.

dad, regarding the management of oil pipelines, is one of

Ten years after the fall of Saddam Hussein the real winner

the most delicate issues facing Kurdistan and their relation-

of the Iraq war appears to be the almost five million Kurds

ship with Turkey. The oil revenues and the control of the

living in the Northern region of Iraq. As one of the most

northern area around Kirkuk (that is rich in oil deposits)

developed regions of the country, the Kurdistan Regional

are the two subjects of dispute with Baghdad. The Iraqi

Government now enjoys a growing tourist industry, com-

government claims that only the Federal Government has

prising of more than




1,700,000 people in

grant licenses and

2012, which explains

export oil. A law

why Erbil is about to

approved by the

become the capital of

parliament of Bagh-

tourism in the Arab

dad states that Kur-


distan receives 17% in

of all the country’s

Kurdistan, it is natu-

revenues, but the

ral to be affected by

Iraqi federal gov-


the efficiency and

Syrian Kurds Chant Slogans Against the Assad Regime (Photo: Associated Press)

ernment distributes

welcoming attitude of the international airport of Erbil,

only 10.8% to Erbil. This is because Kurdistan must con-

the large streets, the large construction sites, the skyscrap-

tribute part of their revenues toward the foreign policy and

ers, the luxurious hotels and restaurants. Around 150,000

defense of the country. However, the Kurds of northern

Christians have left Iraq to seek refuge and build a home in

Iraq would rather receive more oil revenues, particularly

Kurdistan, a region with impressive annual growth rates.

considering the hydrocarbon reserves discovered in the last

The Kurdish people, who just this year commemorated the 25th anniversary of the genocide in Halabaja, are becoming the center of attention for about forty million other Kurds in the neighboring countries of Turkey, Iran and Syria. There is no precise data on the number of Kurds in these countries. The Energy Issue The political stability of the President Mas’ud Barzani exemplified by the rise of his party, the Kurdish DemAtlantic Voices, Volume 3, Issue 6

ten years in the region (up to 45 billion barrels). The Iraqi Government says the Kurds must pay these costs to the Iraqi oil and gas companies because they believe the KRG does not have the authority to sign deals and export oil independently. Starting last October the government of Kurdistan began effectively bypassing the Iraqi controlled pipelines and exported its crude oil to Turkey on trucks. The Iraqi government has also condemned commercial agreements 10

between Erbil and outside oil companies with regard to the

divided among those faithful to Assad and nationalists who

exploration of territory, as they were reached without the

hoped to take advantage of the crisis in Damascus to gain

authorization of the central government. In addition, as

greater autonomy. Assad has tried to gain favor with the

reported by the pro-government newspaper in Ankara

Kurds by granting them Syrian citizenship. This clearly

"Zaman", the pipeline con-

demonstrates the discrimi-

necting the Tag Tag field in

nation historically felt by

Iraqi Kurdistan and the already existing pipeline, Kirkuk-Ceyhan, in the city

The gradual withdrawal of Syrian central authority and its institutions in the predominantly Kurdish areas has created a large power vacuum.

Kurds in Syria. The Syrian regime decided, in July 2012, to abandon the areas of Kurdish-majority, and

of Fishkabur will be operational by September. From the junction of Ceyhan, a

quickly thereafter the Party of Democratic Union (PYD)

Turkish seaport, crude oil from Kurdistan will go to Euro-

effectively imposed its own authority. This party is aligned

pean markets. While this will result in an increase in ex-

with the PKK and was fairly close to the Assad regime.

ports of black gold, it will also only complicate relations

This situation has led to reconciliation between the PYD

with Baghdad.

and the Kurdish National Council (KNC). The two parties,

The case of Kirkuk, a town rich in oil resources, is

through mediation led by Barzani, reached an agreement

also very important to this subject. It was subject to a pro-

whereby the two groups would share control of the Kurd-

cess of forced Arabization under Saddam Hussein and be-

ish region of Syria during the transitional phase. To do this,

cause of this, is now disputed by Arab and Kurdish resi-

President Barzani summoned all 16 Kurdish parties


(including PYD) to Erbil and pressed them to unite for the Kurdish cause and their people in

However, this is not suf-

Syria. President Barzani has tried to

ficient to explain the importance

illustrate the common Kurdish ex-

of Kurdistan on the global chess-

perience from Iraq to Syria by pro-

board and the tensions that are

moting unity, common goals and a

present in the region.

singular representation for the

The Syrian Crisis

Kurdish people.

The civil war in Syria and

The gradual withdrawal of

the repression felt by Syrian so-

Syrian central authority and its insti-

ciety has caused major global

tutions in the predominantly Kurd-

problems. Given this, there are

ish areas has created a large power

many components to the possible effect the Syrian conflict can have on the Kurdish situation.

vacuum. Assad's troops have alOil Pipelines Travel Through Iraq, Kurdistan and Turkey. (Credit: The Economist)

It is important that the Kurds closely monitor the developments of the Syrian crisis to evaluate and analyze the possible victory of Islamic groups in Syria after Assad’s fall. The Kurdish reactions to the Syrian insurrection have been varied. Initially the majority of Kurds didn’t participate in protests against the regime, but later it became Atlantic Voices, Volume 3, Issue 6

lowed the Kurdish militant wing of

the PYD to take control of the north of the country, forming an enclave. Although there are 16 Kurdish parties in Syria, only PYD has a military wing on the ground. The Kurdish community then began to build their own government, creating local law enforcement agencies, social support organizations and people's councils. President Barzani stressed the importance of a peaceful area under Kurdish 11

control as a defensive measure. The local parties are merely

the most important Kurdish organizations in Syria, repre-

keeping the area safe from the havoc in the rest of the coun-

sented by the Party of Democratic Union (PYD). This new

try. This situation could reignite the project of a Syrian Kurd-

detente between Ankara and the PKK has been stimulated

ish autonomous region, which would look to Iraqi Kurdistan

by the civil war in Syria, prompting Ankara to move for-

as a model. Currently, however, the process to gain autono-

ward with peace talks to avoid further Syrian sponsorship

my is not clear because the Syrian Kurdish community’s primary goal is to acquire autonomy and protection from possible inter-

of PKK attacks inside Turkey.

The relaxation in relations between Ankara and the PKK will finally allow Kurdistan to stabilize its borders...

Turkey has had to accept the changing regional context in Ankara that prevents any military intervention because of the

vention from Assad or Islamist rebel forces. The fear of a return of Assad, doubts against the

Russian and Chinese veto in the UN Security Council, the

army of the rebel brigades and concerns caused by the Islam-

divided Syrian opposition and cautious attitude of NATO.

ist al-Nusra Front and Ghuraba al-Sham reinforce these fears.

Fears that the likely collapse of the Assad regime will pave

At the same time, several of the main Kurdish parties ulti-

the way for the creation of a Kurdish federation in Syria,

mately wish for autonomous status within the future Syrian

which borders Iraqi Kurdistan, are more concrete and may

constitution rather than an independent Kurdish state. The

highlight the separatist sentiments of the Kurds in Turkey.

Kurds are seeking genuine and natural demands to be granted

Therefore Turkey, failing to find common ground

in the post-Assad Syria. This includes national, linguistic and

with the Syrian Kurds, attempts a "divide and conquer"

cultural rights. The example of Iraqi Kurdistan is not easily

tactic with the their own Kurdish community. In this way,

transposed to the Kurdish situation in Syria because of the

Ankara becomes more involved with the Kurdish regional

lack of energy resources and the absence of major cities.

government of Barzani, through which pass the hopes of

It is possible that these Syrian developments have

autonomy of Kurdish communities, both Syrian and Turk-

forced the government in Ankara to change its strategy re-

ish. To this, President Barzani has always said that each

garding its decade’s old approach towards Turkish and Iraqi

community in each of our neighboring countries has a


unique position and that

peace talks with the

they must resolve their dif-


For this reason

ferences. More importantly,

we must not forget the

he has also said, as have



others, that we cannot just

PYD and the PKK, both

apply the same experience

with historically close

in Iraqi Kurdistan to neigh-

ties to the Assad regime.

boring countries. We can-

The Role of Ankara

not simply demand that a

with the Kurdish

region become autonomous



Community in Syria

Kurdish Women Wave PKK Flags (Photo: AFP/Getty Images)

It’s possible that the recent defrosting of relations be-

and expect everything to

work. Each situation is unique.

tween Prime Minister Erdogan and the PKK has a double

The close interdependence between Turkish invest-

aim: to guarantee stability within Turkey and at the same

ments and a channel for exports that Kurdistan found in

time, to allow the PKK to separate themselves from one of

Turkey could be the key to Ankara’s strategy. Not surprisingly, the Kurdish region of Iraq was the only one to bene-

Atlantic Voices, Volume 3, Issue 6


fit from the effects of the post-Saddam era, thanks in part,

from the moderate to extreme will be able to handle

but not limited to, the economic and financial support of

this apparent relaxation.

Turkey. Kurdish people had prior experience in administra-

The increased cooperation between Ankara and

tion and governing of a region. Many things have changed

the PKK will finally allow Kurdistan to stabilize its bor-

since 2007 when Turkey amassed over 200.000 troops on the Kurdish border.

ders, which have often been violated by Turkish army with the intent to strike the bases of PKK rebels operat-

Based on this strategy, Ankara may have found itself in the middle of a very complex situation. Ironically, the decision to invest in the autonomy of Iraqi Kurdistan may be the only option, in order to avoid the creation of other small Kurdish enclaves

ing in Northern Iraq. It has not escaped observers, the significance of President Barzani’s remarks in the Kurdish language in September of 2012 at the Congress of the Justice and Development Party AK in

in Syria and elsewhere.

Ankara. For the first time

At the same time, Turkey is trying to avoid

in fact, a Kurdish leader

instability on its bor-

has spoken, in an official

ders. The areas con-

ceremony in Kurdish terri-

trolled by PYD are on

tory, in the Kurdish lan-

the border with Tur-

guage; an event that has

key, and PYD main-

Prime Minister Erdogan receives KDP Deputy Chairman

tains a good relationship with



Nechirvan Barzani (Photo: AKP Website)


further strengthened political relations between Ankara and Erbil. The importance of

groups can create instability on Turkey’s borders. For this

economic and trade relations between Turkey and Iraqi

reason, it is in Turkey’s interest to resolve this issue to en-

Kurdistan have been confirmed: they alone represent

sure stability and to weaken the PYD in Syria.

70% of the volume of trade between Turkey and Iraq.1

Ceasefire Between the PKK and Ankara: A New Strategy?

About the author

The cease-fire between the PKK and the Ankara

Matteo Bressan received his Master's degree in Interna-

government would, for these reasons, represent a historic

tional Studies in Military Strategy at the The Centre for

turning point that can stop a guerrilla war that, in the last

Defense Higher Studies (Centro Alti Studi per la Difesa).

thirty years has resulted in 45.000 deaths. It should be

He has published several articles on the information media

remembered that the Turkish government has received

of Italian Army and Ministry of Defense. He is the author

not only the demands for autonomy but also recognition

of the book "Hezbollah Tra integrazione politica e lotta

of the rights of Kurds, and threats to the stability and

armata" published in 2013 by Datanews.

territorial integrity if the demands are not met. But Turkey always reacted harshly to the demands of the movement, and continues to deny recognizing the Kurds as a distinct ethnic and cultural identity. It will therefore be important to understand whether the various views held within the PKK, ranging Atlantic Voices, Volume 3, Issue 6

Bibliography President Barzani's Address at Conference of Turkey's Ruling Party in Ankara (30/09/2012) Kurdistan Region Presidency; Nechervan Barzani: The View from Erbil - Kurdistan region PM speaks to Asharw Al - Awsat (6/04/2013); Il Kurdistan nel nuovo Medioriente di Umberto Profazio AffarInternazionali 18/12/2012; Syria's Kurds: A struggle within a struggle 22/01/2013 International Crisis Group; Interview with members of the Syrian National Council. 13

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Atlantic Voices Vol 3. No. 6 (June 2013)  

From the beginning of Kurdish de facto independence, spurred by the no-fly zone in 1991, institutional stability and regional cooperation pr...

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