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Iraqi Kurdistan or Kurdistan Region (Kurdish: Herêmî Kurdistanî, Arabic: إقليم كردستان, Iqlīm Kurdistān) also referred to as Southern Kurdistan as part of Greater Kurdistanmarker (Kurdish: باشووری کوردستان, Başûrî Kurdistan) is an autonomous, federally recognized region of Iraqmarker. It borders Iranmarker to the east, Turkeymarker to the north, Syriamarker to the west and the rest of Iraq to the south. Its capital is the city of Arbilmarker, known in Kurdish as Hewlêr. The region is officially governed by the Kurdistan Regional Government.

The establishment of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq dates back to the March 1970 autonomy agreement between the Kurdish opposition and the Iraqi government after years of heavy fighting. After the agreement, wars between Kurdistan and Iraq had taken away much of the sovereignty the Kurds were entitled to. The Iran-Iraq war during the 1980s and the Anfal genocide campaign of the Iraqi army devastated the population and nature of Kurdistan. Following the 1991 uprising of the Kurdish people against Saddam Hussein, the Kurds were forced to flee the country to become refugees in bordering regions of Iranmarker and Turkeymarker. After the creation of the northern no-fly zone following the First Gulf War in 1991 to facilitate the return of Kurdish refugees, Kurdistan has been de facto independent. The 2003 invasion of Iraq by joint coalition and Kurdish forces and the subsequent political changes in post-Saddam Iraq led to the ratification of the new Iraqi constitution in 2005. The new Iraqi constitution stipulates that Iraqi Kurdistan is a federal entity recognized by Iraq and the United Nations.

Kurdistan is a parliamentary democracy with a national assembly that consists of 111 seats. The current president is Massoud Barzani who was elected during the Iraqi Kurdistan 2005 elections that are held every four years. The three governorates of Duhok, Arbilmarker and Sulaymaniamarker accumulate a territory of around 40,000 square kilometers and a population between 4 and 6.5 million. Disputes remain between the central Iraqi government and the Kurdish government about predominantly Kurdish territories outside the current borders of Iraqi Kurdistan.

As a major economic power in Iraqmarker, Kurdistan has the lowest poverty rates and highest standard of living in Iraq. It is the most stable and secure region of Iraq where not a single coalition soldier or foreigner has been killed, wounded or kidnapped since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Maintaining its own foreign relations, Kurdistan hosts a number of consulates and representation offices of countries most notably those of the United Statesmarker, the United Kingdommarker, Germanymarker, Francemarker, Italymarker, Israelmarker and Russiamarker.


The name Kurdistanmarker literally means Land of the Kurds. The term Kurd in turn is derived from the Latin word Cordueni, i.e. the of the ancient Kingdom of Corduene, which became a Roman province in 66 BC.

In the Iraqi Constitution, it is referred to as Kurdistan Region.. The regional government refers to it as Kurdistan-Iraq (or simply Kurdistan region) but avoids using Iraqi Kurdistan. The full name of the local government is "Kurdistan Regional Government" (abbrev: KRG.)

Kurds also refer to the region as Kurdistana Başûr (South Kurdistan) or Başûrî Kurdistan (Southern Kurdistan or South of Kurdistan) referring to its geographical location within the whole of the greater Kurdistanmarker region.

During the Baath Party administration in the 1970s and 1980s, the region was called "Kurdish Autonomous Region".


Ottoman Period

The area today known as Iraqi Kurdistan was formerly ruled by three principalities of Baban, Badinan and Soran. In 1831, the direct Ottoman rule was imposed and lasted until World War I; afterwards the British influence increased in the region.

British Mandate

During World War I the British and French divided Western Asia in the Sykes-Picot Agreement. The Treaty of Sèvres, which was ratified in the Treaty of Lausanne, led to the advent of modern Western Asia and Republic of Turkeymarker. The League of Nations granted France mandates over Syria and Lebanon and granted the United Kingdom mandates over Iraq and Palestine (which then consisted of two autonomous regions: Palestine and Transjordanmarker). Parts of the Ottoman Empire on the Arabian Peninsula became parts of what are today Saudi Arabiamarker and Yemenmarker.

Kurdish revolts

On December 1, 1918, during a meeting in Sulaymaniyahmarker with Colonel Arnold Wilson, the Acting Civil Commissioner for Mesopotamia, Kurdish leaders called for British support for a united and independent Kurdistan under British protection. Between 1919 and 1922, Shaikh Mahmud Barzanji, an influential Kurdish leader based in Sulaymaniyah, formed a Kurdish government and led two revolts against the British rule. It took the British authorities two years to put down his uprisings. The first revolt began on May 22, 1919 with the arrest of British officials in Sulaymaniyah and it quickly spread to Mosulmarker and Arbilmarker. The British employed aerial bombardments, artillery, ground combat, and on one occasion, chemical gas, in an attempt to quell the uprising. Then the British exiled Mahmoud to India. In July 1920, 62 tribal leaders of the region, called for the independence of Kurdistan under a British mandate. The objection of the British to Kurdish self-rule sprang from the fear that success of an independent Kurdish area would tempt the two Arab areas of Baghdad and Basra to follow suit, hence endangering the direct British control over all Mesopotamia. In 1922, Britain restored Shaikh Mahmoud to power, hoping that he would organize the Kurds to act as a buffer against the Turks, who had territorial claims over Mosul and Kirkukmarker. Shaikh Mahmoud declared a Kurdish Kingdom with himself as King, though later he agreed to limited autonomy within the new state of Iraq. In 1930, following the announcement of the admission of Iraq to the League of Nations, Shaikh Mahmoud started a third uprising which was suppressed with British air and ground forces.

By 1927, the Barzani clan had become vocal supporters of Kurdish rights in Iraq. In 1929, the Barzani demanded the formation of a Kurdish province in northern Iraq. Emboldened by these demands, in 1931 Kurdish notables petitioned the League of Nations to set up an independent Kurdish government. Under pressure from the Iraqi government and the British, the most influential leader of the clan, Mustafa Barzani was forced into exile in Iran in 1945. Later he moved to the Soviet Unionmarker after the collapse of the Republic of Mahabadmarker in 1946.

Barzani Revolts 1960-1975 and their Aftermath

After the military coup by Abdul Karim Qasim in 1958, Barzani was invited by Qasim to return from exile, where he was greeted with a hero's welcome. As part of the deal arranged between Qasim and Barzani, Qasim had promised to give the Kurds regional autonomy in return for Barzani's support for his policies. Meanwhile, during 1959-1960, Barzani became the head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, which was granted legal status in 1960. By early 1960, it became apparent that Qasim would not follow through with his promise of regional autonomy. As a result, the KDP began to agitate for regional autonomy. In the face of growing Kurdish dissent, as well as Barzani's personal power, Qasim began to incite the Barzanis historical enemies, the Baradost and Zebari tribes, which led to inter-tribal warfare throughout 1960 and early 1961. By February 1961, Barzani had successfully defeated the pro-government forces and consolidated his position as leader of the Kurds. At this point, Barzani ordered his forces to occupy and expel government officials from all Kurdish territory. This was not received well in Baghdad, and as a result, Qasim began to prepare for a military offensive against the north to return government control of the region. Meanwhile, in June 1961, the KDP issued a detailed ultimatum to Qasim outlining Kurdish grievances and demanded rectification. Qasim ignored the Kurdish demands and continued his planning for war. It was not until September 10, when an Iraqi army column was ambushed by a group of Kurds, that the Kurdish revolt truly began. In response to the attack, Qasim lashed out and ordered the Iraqi Air Force to indiscriminately bomb Kurdish villages, which ultimately served to rally the entire Kurdish population to Barzani's standard. Due to Qasim's profound distrust of the Iraqi Army, which he purposely failed to adequately arm (in fact, Qasim implemented a policy of ammunition rationing), Qasim's government was not able to subdue the insurrection. This stalemate irritated powerful factions within the military and is said to be one of the main reasons behind the Baathist coup against Qasim in February 1963. In November 1963, after considerable infighting amongst the civilian and military wings of the Baathists, they were ousted by Abdul Salam Arif in a coup. Then, after another failed offensive, Arif declared a ceasefire in February 1964 which provoked a split among Kurdish urban radicals on one hand and Peshmarga(Freedom fighters) forces led by Barzani on the other. Barzani agreed to the ceasefire and fired the radicals from the party. Following the unexpected death of Arif, where upon he was replaced by his brother, Abdul Rahman Arif, the Iraqi government launched a last-ditch effort to defeat the Kurds. This campaign failed in May 1966, when Barzani forces thoroughly defeated the Iraqi Army at the Battle of Mount Handrin, near Rawanduz. At this battle, it was said that the Kurds slaughtered an entire brigade. Recognizing the futility of continuing this campaign, Rahamn Arif announced a 12-point peace program in June 1966, which was not implemented due to the overthrow of Rahman Arif in a 1968 coup by the Baath Party. The Baath government started a campaign to end the Kurdish insurrection, which stalled in 1969. This can be partly attributed to the internal power struggle in Baghdad and also tensions with Iranmarker. Moreover, the Sovietsmarker pressured the Iraqis to come to terms with Barzani. A peace plan was announced in March 1970 and provided for broader Kurdish autonomy. The plan also gave Kurds representation in government bodies, to be implemented in four years. Despite this, the Iraqi government embarked on an Arabization program in the oil rich regions of Kirkuk and Khanaqinmarker in the same period. In the following years, Baghdad government overcame its internal divisions and concluded a treaty of friendship with the Soviet Unionmarker in April 1972 and ended its isolation within the Arab world. On the other hand, Kurds remained dependent on the Iranian military support and could do little to strengthen their forces.

The Algiers Agreement

In 1974, Iraqi government began a new offensive against the Kurds and pushed them close to the border with Iran. Iraq informed Tehran that it was willing to satisfy other Iranian demands in return for an end to its aid to the Kurds. With mediation by Algerian President Houari Boumédiènne, Iran and Iraq reached a comprehensive settlement in March 1975 known as the Algiers Pact. The agreement left the Kurds helpless and Tehran cut supplies to the Kurdish movement. Barzani went to Iran with many of his supporters. Others surrendered en masse and the rebellion ended after a few days. As a result Iraqi government extended its control over the northern region after 15 years and in order to secure its influence, started an Arabization program by moving Arabs to the oil fields in Kurdistan, particularly the ones around Kirkuk. The repressive measures carried out by the government against the Kurds after the Algiers agreement led to renewed clashes between the Iraqi Army and Kurdish guerrillas in 1977. In 1978 and 1979, 600 Kurdish villages were burned down and around 200,000 Kurds were deported to the other parts of the country.

Iran–Iraq War and Anfal Campaign

During the Iran–Iraq War, the Iraqi government again implemented anti-Kurdish policies and a de facto civil war broke out. Iraq was widely-condemned by the international community, but was never seriously punished for oppressive measures, including the use of chemical weapons against the Kurds, which resulted in thousands of deaths. (See Halabja poison gas attackmarker.)

The Al-Anfal Campaign constituted a systematic genocide of the Kurdish people in Iraq. The first wave of the plan was carried out in 1982 when 8,000 Barzanis were arrested and their remains were returned back to Kurdistan in 2008. The second and more extensive and widespread wave began from March 29, 1987 until April 23, 1989, Iraqimarker army under the command of Ali Hassan al-Majid carried out a genocidal campaign against the Kurds, characterized by the following human rights violations:The widespread use of chemical weapons, the wholesale destruction of some 2,000 villages, and slaughter of around 50,000 rural Kurds, by the most conservative estimates. The large Kurdish town of Qala Dizeh (population 70,000) was completely destroyed by the Iraqi army. The campaign also included Arabization of Kirkuk, a program to drive Kurds out of the oil-rich city and replace them with Arab settlers from central and southern Iraqmarker. Kurdish sources report the number of dead to be greater than 182,000.

After the Persian Gulf War

The Kurdistan Region was originally established in 1970 as the Kurdish Autonomous Region following the agreement of an Autonomy Accord between the government of Iraqmarker and leaders of the Iraqi Kurdish community. A Legislative Assembly was established in the city of Arbil with theoretical authority over the Kurdish-populated governorates of Erbilmarker, Dahukmarker and As Sulaymaniyahmarker. In practice, however, the assembly created in 1970 was under the control of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein until the 1991 uprising against his rule following the end of the Persian Gulf War. Concern for safety of Kurdish refugees was reflected in the United Nations Security Council Resolution 688 which gave birth to a safe haven, in which U.S. and British air power protected a Kurdish zone inside Iraq. (see Operation Provide Comfort). While the no-fly zone covered Dahukmarker and Erbil, it left out Sulaymaniyah and Kirkuk. Then following several bloody clashes between Iraqi forces and Kurdish troops, an uneasy and shaky balance of power was reached, and the Iraqi government withdrew its military and other personnel from the region in October 1991. At the same time, Iraq imposed an economic blockade over the region, reducing its oil and food supplies. The region thus gained de facto independence, being ruled by the two principal Kurdish parties – the Kurdish Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan – outside the control of Baghdadmarker. The region has its own flag and national anthem.

Elections held in June 1992 produced an inconclusive outcome, with the assembly divided almost equally between the two main parties and their allies. During this period, the Kurds were subjected to a double embargo: one imposed by the United Nations on Iraq and one imposed by Saddam Hussein on their region. The severe economic hardships caused by the embargoes, fueled tensions between the two dominant political parties: Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iraq (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) over control of trade routes and resources. Relations between the PUK and the KDP started to become dangerously strained from September 1993 after rounds of amalgamations occurred between parties. This led to internecine and intra-Kurdish conflict and warfare between 1994 and 1996. After 1996, 13% of the Iraqi oil sales were allocated for Iraqi Kurdistan and this led to a relative prosperity in the region. Saddam had established an oil smuggling route through territory controlled by the KDP, with the active involvement of senior Barzani family members. The taxation of this trade at the crossing point between Saddam’s territory and Kurdish controlled territory and then into Turkey, along with associated service revenue, meant that who ever controlled Dohuk and Zakho had the potential to earn several million dollars a week. Direct United Statesmarker mediation led the two parties to a formal ceasefire in Washington Agreement in September 1998. It is also argued that the Oil for Food Program from 1997 onward had an important effect on cessation of hostilities.

Since 2003 and Operation Iraqi Freedom

Iraqi Kurds have played an important role in the 2nd Gulf War, “Operation Iraqi Freedom" Kurdish parties joined forces against the Iraqi government in the Operation Iraqi Freedom in Spring 2003. The Kurdish military forces known as peshmerga played a key role in the overthrow of the former Iraqi government, however Kurds have been reluctant to send troops into Baghdad since, preferring not to be dragged into the sectarian struggle that so dominates much of Iraq. The Iraqi Kurds may be seen in two ways. The first and the most common way is to view the Kurds as victims, both of the central government in Iraq and of neighboring powers - particularly Turkey. The second opposing position is to see them as an agent provocateur, acting as proxy forces for states opposed to the incumbent Iraqi regime. This polarised notion of their status may be too simple, when one considers that there are opposing agendas within Iraqi Kurdistan with regard to issues such as the relationship with Turkey, nationalist aspirations and relations globally.

KDP and PUK have united to form an alliance with several smaller parties, and the Kurdish alliance has 53 deputies in the new Baghdad parliament, while the Kurdish Islamic Union has 5. PUK-leader Jalal Talabani has been elected President of the new Iraqi administration, while KDP leader Massoud Barzani is President of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).

Since the downfall of the regime of Saddam Hussein, the relations between the KRG and Turkeymarker have been very tense on one hand but close on the other. Tensions marked a high stage in late February 2008 when Turkeymarker unilaterally took military action against the PKK and violated the sovereignty of the Kurdistan Region. The incursion which lasted 8 days could have involved the armed forces of Kurdistan into a broader regional war. However, relations have been improved since then, and Turkey now has the largest share of foreign investment in Kurdistan.


Since 1992, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has been based in Arbil. The KRG has a parliament, elected by popular vote, called the Iraqi Kurdistan National Assembly, and a cabinet composed of the KDP, the PUK and their allies (Iraqi Communist Party, the Socialist Party of Kurdistan etc.). Structurally and officially, the two parties exhibit few differences from each other. Both of their international organizations are similar and both have a similar structure of authority,but one can recognise many differences between the region that PUK used to control from that of PDK, nearly all the free press is based in Sulaymaniyah, and the public enjoys more freedom expressing its ideas in Sulaymaniyah. Nechervan Idris Barzani, Massoud’s nephew, has been prime minister of the KRG since 1999. The KDP become increasingly coloured by Barzani family members. Masrour, Massoud’s son, is now in the Political Bureau. Nechervan is Prime Minister and as tensions in Iraq increase so has the centralist tendencies of the KDP. The KDP is not very popular in Sulaymaniyahmarker, as the recent elections held in 25/7/2009 showed only 30% voted for Barzani for president, while more than 60% voted for Dr. Kemal Meraoudeli. Meraoudeli is a writer of philosophy and he was relatively unknown to the ordinary Kurdish population This structure of Kurdish politics is a result of region's tribal structure. According to Bruinessen, the traditional structure of Kurdish social and political organization was inherently tribal, with a tribe being a socio-political unit with distinct territorial limits and membership based on kinship. Tribal power is widespread in Arbilmarker and Dahuk. And one must recognize the cultural differences between Arbilmarker and Sulaymaniyahmarker to understand the political nature of the region.

After the 2003 Liberation of Iraq Kurdish politicians were represented in the Iraqi governing council. On January 30, 2005 three elections were held in the region: 1) for Transitional National Assembly of Iraq 2) for Iraqi Kurdistan National Assembly and 3) for provincial councils. The Law of Administration for the State of Iraq for the Transitional Period recognized the autonomy of the Kurdistan Regional Government during the interim between "full sovereignty" and the adoption of a permanent constitution.

The Kurdistan Regional Government currently has constitutionally recognised authority over the provinces of Erbil, Dahuk, and As Sulaymaniyah, as well as de facto authority over half of Kirkuk province and parts of Diyala, Salah ad-Din and Ninawamarker provinces.


Elections for the Kurdistan National Assembly are held every four years. The latest elections for the parliament of Kurdistan were held on 25 July 2009. The leading political alliance was the Kurdistani List which consisted of the two main political parties, PUK and PDK, and which won 59 seats. The new less popular competing movement, the Gorran List ("Gorran" means "change" in Kurdish) headed by Nawshirwan Mustafa won 25 seats, a quarter of all parliamentary seats. The Gorran List is very popular among Kurdish youth in AS sulaimanyia, and managed to beat the two main political parties in the city of Sulaymaniyahmarker and the Sulaymaniyah governnorate, which was previously considered PUK's stronghold. The Reform List, consisting of 4 parties won 13 seats. In addition, the Islamic movement won 2 seats and 11 seats were won by minorities Turks (5 seats), Christians (5 seats) and Armenians (1 seat).

This election however attracted a great deal of criticism locally and by international obsevers. It has been reported by Gorran List that widespread and systematic electoral fraud has taken place in Arbilmarker and Dahuk.

In the Presidential election Massoud Barzani was appointed President and won another term in 2009 by gaining 70% of votes. Dr. Kamal Miraudeli came second with 30% of votes.

Elections for the governorate councils are held every four years. Each council consists of 41 members. The last governorate council election of Kurdistan was held in 2009.

Foreign Relations

The Kurdistan Region is allowed to have its own foreign relations without referring to Baghdad. Kurdistan has had relations with a number of foreign countries for decades. Relations with the neighbouring states have always been tense because of the autonomous status of Kurdistan Region within Iraq. That status is seen as a threat to countries like Iran, Turkey and Syria, all having significant Kurdish populations within their borders.

Kurdistan houses numerous consulates, embassy offices, trade offices and honorary consulates of countries that want to grow their influence and have better ties with the Kurdistan Regional Government. Despite having the largest share of Foreign Direct Investments in Kurdistan, Turkeymarker has not opened a consulate in the Kurdistan Region but in a city in Arab Iraq. The Kurdistan Regional Government has planned to open numerous representation offices in Europe.

The representative of the Kurdistan Regional Government to the United States is the youngest son of Iraqi president Jalal Talabani, Qubad Talabani. Appointing talabani an official and important position, garnered much criticism from independent Kurdish journals and newspapers, as father to son transfer of power is feared, considering barzani's son's holding the position of head of the anti-terror units in Arbilmarker and Dahuk. The KRG's high representative to the United Kingdom is Bayan Sami Abdul-Rahman, daughter of Sami Abdul-Rahman who was killed in a terrorist attack on 1st of February 2004.


The Kurdistan region's economy is dominated by the oil industry, agriculture and tourism. Due to relative peace in the region it has a more developed economy in comparison to other parts of Iraqmarker.

Prior to the removal of Saddam Hussein, the Kurdistan Regional Government received approximately 13% of the revenues from Iraq's Oil-for-Food Program. By the time of the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, the program had disbursed $8.35 billion to the KRG. Iraqi Kurdistan's food security allowed for substantially more of the funds to be spent on development projects than in the rest of Iraq. By the program's end in 2003 $4 billion of the KRG's oil-for-food funds remained unspent.

Following the removal of Saddam Hussein's administration and the subsequent violence, the three provinces fully under the Kurdistan Regional Government's control were the only three in Iraq to be ranked "secure" by the US military. The relative security and stability of the region has allowed the KRG to sign a number of investment contracts with foreign companies. In 2006, the first new oil well since the invasion of Iraq was drilled in the Kurdistan region by the Norwegianmarker energy company DNO. Initial indications are that the oil field contains at least of oil and will be pumping 5,000 bpd by early 2007. The KRG has signed exploration agreements with two other oil companies, Canadamarker's Western Oil Sands and the UKmarker's Sterling Energy.

The stability of the Kurdistan region has allowed it to achieve a higher level of development than other regions in Iraq. In 2004, the per capita income was 25% higher than in the rest of Iraq. The government continues to receive a portion of the revenue from Iraq's oil exports, and the government will soon implement a unified foreign investment law. The KRG also has plans to build a media city in Arbil and free trade zones near the borders of Turkey and Iran.

The region still gets a cut from Iraqi-Turkish trade, plus subsidies from the United Statesmarker and Israelmarker .

Since 2003, the stronger economy of Kurdistan has attracted around 20,000 workers from other parts of Iraq. According to Iraqi president Jalal Talabani, since 2003 the number of millionaires in the Kurdish city of Silêmani has increased from 12 to 2000, reflecting the financial and economic growth of the region.

Infrastructure and Transport

Due to the devastation of the campaigns of the Iraqi army under Saddam Hussein and other former Iraqi regimes, the Kurdistan Region's infrastructure was never able to modernize. After the 1991 safe-haven was established, the Kurdistan Regional Government began with projects to reconstruct the Kurdistan Region. Since then, of all the 4,500 villages that were destroyed by Saddam Husseins' regime, 65% has been reconstructed by the KRG.


Kurdistan can be reached by land and air. By land, Kurdistan can be reached most easily by Turkey through the Habur Border Gate which is the only border gate between Kurdistan and Turkey. This border gate can be reached by bus or taxi from airports in Turkey as close as the Mardin or Diyarbakirmarker airports, as well as from Istanbulmarker or Ankaramarker. Kurdistan has two border gates with Iran, the Haji Omaran border gate and the Bashmeg border gate near the city of Sulaymaniyahmarker. Kurdistan has also a border gate with Syria known as the Faysh Khabur border gate. From within Iraq, Kurdistan can be reached by land from multiple roads.

Kurdistan has opened its doors to the international world by opening two international airports. Erbil International Airportmarker and Sulaimaniyah International Airportmarker, which both operate flights to Middle Eastern and European destinations. There are at least 2 military airfields in Kurdistan.


The Duhok Lake
The Kurdistan Region is largely mountainous, with the highest point being a 3,611 m (11,847 ft) point known locally as Cheekah Darmarker (black tent). The mountains are part of the larger Zagrosmarker mountain range which is present in Iran as well. There are many rivers flowing and running through mountains of the region making it distinguished by its fertile lands, plentiful water, picturesque nature. The Zab rivers flow from the east to the west in the region. The Tigris river enters Iraq from the Kurdistan Region after flowing from Turkey.

The mountainous nature of Kurdistan, the difference of temperatures in its various parts, and its wealth of waters, make Kurdistan a land of agriculture and tourism. In addition to various minerals, oil in particular, which for a long time was being extracted via pipeline only in Kurdistan through Iraq. The largest lake in the region is Lake Dukan. In addition, there are several smaller lakes such as the Duhok Lake.

In the western and southern parts of the Kurdistan Region, the area is not as mountainious as the east. It is rolling hills and sometimes plains that make up the area. The area however is greener than the rest of Iraq.

The term "Northern Iraq" is a bit of a geographical ambiguity in usage. "North" typically refers to the Kurdistan Region. "Center" and "South" or "Center-South" when individually referring to the other areas of Iraq or the rest of the country that is not the Kurdistan Region. Most media sources continually refer to "North" and "Northern Iraq" as anywhere north of Baghdad.

Administrative divisions

The levels of the administrative divisions of Kurdistan
Kurdistan is divided into three governorates (Parêzge in Kurdish) excluding other Iraqi governorates potentially becoming part of Kurdistan. The governorates of Duhokmarker, Erbilmarker and Sulaymaniyamarker form the current Kurdistan Region. Each of these governorates is divided into districts with a total of 26 districts. Each district is divided into sub-districts. Governorates have a capital city, while districts and sub-districts have district centers.


Iraqi Kurdistan is divided among seven governorates of which currently three are under the control of the Kurdistan Regional Government. These governorates are called in Kurdish parêzge. Particularly in Iraqi government documents, the term governorate is preferred.
  • The governorates wholly under the Kurdistan Regional Government are:

1. As Sulaymaniyahmarker (Slêmanî)
2. Erbilmarker (Hewlêr)
3. Dahukmarker (Duhok)

  • The governorates claimed totally or in part by the Kurdistan Regional Government are:

4. Kirkukmarker (Kerkûk) - (all)
5. Diyalamarker - Kifrimarker Khanaqinmarker and Baladroozmarker districts
6. Ninawamarker - Akramarker, Shekhan, Al-Shikhan, Al-Hamdaniya, Tel Kaif, Tall Afarmarker and Sinjarmarker districts
7. Salah ad Dinmarker - Tooz district
8. Wasitmarker - Badrahmarker district
A referendum was scheduled to be held on 15 November 2007 to determine whether these governorates, or parts of them, will be included in the Kurdish Regional Government. The referendum is intended to cover all districts of Kirkuk Governorate, the Khanaquin and Kifri districts of Diyala Governorate, the Touz-Khur-Mati district of Salah ad Din Governorate, and the Akra and Shekan districts of Ninewa Governorate. This referendum has been postponed, first to 31 December 2007, and subsequently for up to a further six months. Kurds insist that the referendum be held as soon as possible.


The Kurdistan Region has an increasing urban population with still a significant rural population.The following list is an incomplete list of the largest cities within the three governorates which are currently de jure and de facto under control of the Kurdistan Regional Government.

The 8 largest cities in Iraqi Kurdistan
City Population Governorate
Arbilmarker 1,190,251 Erbil Governoratemarker
Silemanîmarker 759,508 Sulaymaniya Governoratemarker
Duhokmarker 241,033 Duhok Governoratemarker
Zaxomarker 186,129 Duhok Governoratemarker
Rawanduz 102,399 Erbil Governoratemarker
Halabjamarker 79,824 Sulaymaniya Governoratemarker
Sêmêl 49,995 Duhok Governoratemarker
Ranyamarker 80,257 Sulaymaniya Governoratemarker

  • Population data from World Gazetteer 2009 estimates
  • Population data not verifiable


Due to the absence of a proper population census, the exact population of Kurdistan as well as the rest of Iraq is unknown. However by 2009, Iraq had an estimated population of around 30 million as estimated by the IMFmarker. Within the three governorates of Duhok, Arbilmarker and Sulaymaniyamarker the population is 7,549,842. These numbers exclude the Kurds living in the disputed provinces such as Ninawa, Kirkuk and Diyala as well as Kurds living in Arab Iraq. Kurdistan has a young population with an estimated 40% of the population being under the age of 15.

The ethnic make-up of Kurdistan is diverse and includes Assyrian Christians, Iraqi Turkmens and Arabs next to the Kurdish majority. The Kurds make up around 95% of Kurdistan with the remaining 5% including the minority groups.


Since the overthrow of the regime of Saddam Hussein in 2003, Iraqi Kurdistan has witnessed massive immigration from Arab parts of Iraq as well as from Turkey and South Asia. Because of the stability and security Kurdistan has witnessed, non-Kurdish Iraqi immigrants are settling in Kurdistan for jobs and protection, fleeing from the relatively insecure Arab Iraq. Estimates begin at 100,000 to 250,000 non-Kurdish Iraqis in Kurdistan since 2003.

Widespread economic activity between Kurdistan and Turkey has given the opportunity for Turks to seek jobs in Iraqi Kurdistan. A Kurdish newspaper based in the Kurdish capital estimates that around 50,000 Turks are now living in Kurdistan. Reports about immigrants from Bangladesh, India and Pakistan have been published as well.


The official language of instruction and institutions is Kurdish. Arabic has still some uses because of its domination under former Iraqi regimes. Kurdish has now taken that position as the dominant language in schools, government institutions, ministries and television channels.

For the minority groups in Kurdistan, such as the Assyrian Christians and Iraqi Turkmens, their languages are official in the municipalities where they make up a majority. The constitution of Kurdistan recognizes these languages as official in the areas dominated by these minority groups.


Kurdistan has a diverse religious population. The dominating religion is Islam, adhered by most of its inhabitants. These include Kurds, Turkmen and Arabs being divided into the Sunni and Shia branch of Islam for all of these three ethnic groups.Christianity and Yezidism are adhered to by a small minority including Kurdish Yezidis, Chaldean Christians and Assyrian Christians. A small group of Kurdish Jews live in Iraqi Kurdistan.


A Kurdish woman makes bread
Kurdish culture is a group of distinctive cultural traits practiced by Kurdish people. The Kurdish culture is a legacy from the various ancient peoples who shaped modern Kurds and their society, but primarily of two layers of indigenous (Hurrian), and of the ancient Iranic (Medes).

Among their neighbours, the Kurdish culture is closest to Iranian culture . For example they celebrate Newroz as the new year day, which is celebrated on March 21. It is the first day of the month of Xakelêwe in Kurdish calendar and the first day of spring.


Traditionally, there are three types of Kurdish classical performers - storytellers (çîrokbêj), minstrels (stranbêj) and bards (dengbêj). There was no specific music related to the Kurdish princely courts, and instead, music performed in night gatherings (şevbihêrk) is considered classical. Several musical forms are found in this genre. Many songs are epic in nature, such as the popular lawiks which are heroic ballads recounting the tales of Kurdish heroes of the past like Saladin. Heyrans are love ballads usually expressing the melancholy of separation and unfulfilled love. Lawje is a form of religious music and Payizoks are songs performed specifically in autumn.Love songs, dance music, wedding and other celebratory songs (dîlok/narînk), erotic poetry and work songs are also popular.


Peshmerga is the term used by Kurds to refer to armed Kurdish fighters, they have been labelled by some as freedom fighters. Literally meaning "those who face death" (pêş front + merg death e is) the peshmerga forces of Kurdistanmarker have been around since the advent of the Kurdish independence movement in the early 1920s, following the collapse of the Ottoman and Qajar empires which had jointly ruled over the area known today as Kurdistan.

The Peshmerga fought alongside the US Army and the coalition in the northern front during Operation Iraqi Freedom. During the following years, the Peshmerga played a vital role in security for Kurdistan and other parts of Iraq. Not a single coalition soldier or foreigner has been killed, wounded or kidnapped in Kurdistan since the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The Peshmerga have also been deployed in Baghdad and al-Anbar governorate for anti-terror operations.

The Kurdistan Region is allowed to have its own army under the Iraqi constitution and the Iraqi army is not allowed to enter the Kurdistan Region by law.

Role in capturing Saddam Hussein

The Peshmerga is believed to have been the responsible force for capturing the former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in December 2003. The Sunday Herald reported that the Kurdish intelligence service lead to the direct capture of Saddam Hussein with Kurdish special forces sealing off the area of the al-Dwar farmhouse before the arrival of US troops.

An Israeli intelligence source who was in company of high-ranking Kurds at a meeting in Athens early on December 14 reported how one of the Kurdish representatives burst into the conference room in tears and demanded an immediate halt to the discussions. "Saddam Hussein has been captured," he said, adding that he had received word from Kurdistan before any television reports.


During the rule of former Iraqi regimes prior to the 2003 overthrow of Saddam Hussein, education in Kurdistan was very limited. Institutions of education were largely denied. Very few primary and secondary schools were present and in some cases in remote areas, they were not even built. Kurds that wanted to attend higher education were often denied because of their identity.

Before the establishment of the Kurdistan Regional Government, primary and secondary education was almost entirely taught in Arabic. Higher education was always taught in Arabic. This however changed with the establishment of the Kurdistan autonomous region. The first international school, the International School of Choueifat opened its branch in Kurdistan in2006. Kurdistan’s official universities are listed below, followed by their English acronym (if commonly used), internet domain, establishment date and latest data about the number of students.

Institute Internet Domain Est. Date Students
Salahaddin University (SU) 1968 7,048 (2007)
University of Sulaimania (US) 1968 (3,067) (2006)
University of Dohuk 1992 1,689 (2007)
University of Koya (KU) 2003 (?) (2006)
University of Kurdistan 2006 400 (2006)
American University of Iraq - Sulaimani 2007 50 (2007)
Hawler Medical University (HMU) 2006 (?) (2006)
Business & Management University (BMU) 2007 (?) (2007)

Other parts of Kurdistan

See also


  4. []
  6. Full Text of Iraqi Constitution
  7. Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG)
  8. Libcom History of Iraq 1904-2003
  9. C. Dahlman, The Political Geography of Kurdistan, Eurasian Geography and Economics, Vol.43, No.4, 2002, p.286
  10. Saad Eskander, Britain's Policy in Southern Kurdistan: The Formation and Termination of the First Kurdish Government, 1918-1919, British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, Vol.27, No.2, 2000 pp.151,152,155,160
  11. G.S. Harris, Ethnic Conflict and the Kurds, Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, p.118, 1977
  12. See Edgar O'Ballance, The Kurdish Revolt, 1961-1970; Kenneth M. Pollack, Arabs at War;
  13. G.S. Harris, Ethnic Conflict and the Kurds, Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, pp.118-120, 1977
  14. Introduction : GENOCIDE IN IRAQ: The Anfal Campaign Against the Kurds (Human Rights Watch Report, 1993)
  15. G.S. Harris, Ethnic Conflict and the Kurds, Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, p.121, 1977
  16. M. Farouk-Sluglett, P. Sluglett, J. Stork, Not Quite Armageddon: Impact of the War on Iraq, MERIP Reports, July-September 1984, p.24
  17. Death Clouds: Saddam Hussein’s Chemical War Against the Kurds
  18. Human Rights Watch Report About Anfal Campaign, 1993.
  19. [1]
  20. L. Fawcett, Down but not out? The Kurds in International Politics, Reviews of International Studies, Vol.27, 2001 p.117
  21. M. Leezenberg, Iraqi Kurdistan: contours of a post-civil war society, Third World Quarterly, Vol.26, No.4-5, June 2005, p.636
  22. H.J. Barkey, E. Laipson, Iraqi Kurds And Iraq's Future, Middle East Policy, Vol. XII, No.4, Winter 2005, pp.67
  23. Stansfield, G.R.V., Iraqi Kurdistan, Routledge: New York, 2003, p.96
  24. M. M. Gunter, M. H. Yavuz, The continuing Crisis In Iraqi Kurdistan, Middle East Policy, Vol. XII, No.1, Spring 2005, pp.123-124
  25. Stansfield, G.& Anderson, L., The Future of Iraq, Palgrave Macmillan: New York, 2004, p.174
  26. M. Leezenberg, Iraqi Kurdistan: contours of a post-civil war society, Third World Quarterly, Vol.26, No.4-5, June 2005, p.639
  27. Title page for ETD etd-11142005-144616
  29. Stansfield, G.& Anderson, L., The Future of Iraq, Palgrave Macmillan: New York, 2004, p.155
  31. Stansfield, G.R.V., Iraqi Kurdistan, Routledge: New York, 2003, p.119
  32. Stansfield, G.R.V., Iraqi Kurdistan, Routledge: New York, 2003, p.182
  33. Stansfield, G., Iraq, Polity Press: Cambridge, 2007, p.65
  34. H. Walker, T. Clark, Election in Iraq - 30 January 2005:An Assessment, Journal of Asian Affairs, Vol.36, No.2, July 2005, p.182
  36.|is based in Mosul, a dangerous city in Arab Iraq, rather than in Erbil, in the safety of Iraqi Kurdistan.
  39. British agency Hinterland Travel has recently started small scale tourism tours to the region [2].
  40. H.J. Barkey, E. Laipson, Iraqi Kurds And Iraq's Future, Middle East Policy, Vol. XII, No.4, Winter 2005, p.68
  41. Jalal Talabani, in a letter to the people of the United States, September 2006 [3]
  45. Cultural Orientation Resource Center

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