Free Kurdistan is the name of the Iraqi Autonomy which is in the northern part of modern Iraq. The latter is the most autonomous of all the modern Kurdish-populated areas and is the basis of the vision of establishing future great Kurdistan. Iraqi Kurdistan today is de facto a free State-like unit. It’s a democratic, multiparty and parliamentary republic (at least on the level of declarations). Iraq’s Kurdish Parliament (1 out of 111 deputies is mandatorily Armenian) was for the first time formed as a result of May elections in 1992( the Parliament holds the function of a government approval). From the first elections till now 2 main parties have originated – Kurdistan Democratic Party and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. In 1992 the Parliament made a decision about the creation of free and federative Kurdish State with Kirkuk as a capital (within federative and liberal Iraq) the territory of which is nearly 40.000 sq. km and the population is nearly 7.5 million people.
The history of free Kurdistan’s establishment is quite remarkable. Weakened as a result of the Gulf War, Saddam Hussein was unable to organize a serious resistance against the forces of Peshmerga that had returned from abroad and in March 1991 had already taken control over all the Kurd-populated areas of Iraq. But only after a month of rearranging the forces, Saddam did the bloodshed of the erupted rebellion and captured Sulaymaniyah. Afraid of the chance of “Anfal’s” recurrence, Kurds massively ran away from the country. Nearly 1.5 million people went to Turkey and Iran. Nearly 70% of the population of the southern part of Kurdish regions left their homes in panic. A humanitarian crisis began. The UN Security Council adopted the resolution N. 688 on 5 April, according to which nearly all the Kurdish regions were closed for access for Iraqi aviation and military. The supervision was given to the American, British and French commands, which started patrolling along the Kurdistan border. This was followed by the thrust of the newly formed coalition forces into Kurdistan’s area and in October Iraqi forces finally left the Kurdish-populated areas. The independent Kurdish state was factually formed under the patronage of the UN. So, the determining factor in the declaration process was not the result of Kurds’ persistent struggle and strong will but the result of international intervention and geo-political arrangements. A nation that hasn’t conquered its independence can’t be free at least because of the fact that an ethnic group or its constituent citizens haven’t yet reached the level of consciousness and self-sacrifice, which is the highest level of public sense. As a result the internationally recognized Kurdish statehood issue is still at stake. At the time of independence the economy of free Kurdistan was in an extremely difficult condition: the international blockade of Iraq, the new blockade organized by Saddam, “Anfal”, presence of millions of refuges became the reason for the complete collapse of the region’s economy. 1991-1998 were especially hard years because of the civil war erupted between Kurdish political parties and Arabization companies organized by Saddam. The conflict which had been going on with variable success lasted for years (1994-1996). When one of the sides asked for Saddam’s help, the latter didn’t miss his chance and some days later the Iraqi troops occupied Erbil, Sulaymaniyah and the majority of the Kurdish regions with the support of a part of the Kurds. After a month the Kurdish parties concluded a truce under the pressure of the US while the Iraqi troops were forced out of the Kurdish territory. But despite the huge efforts of the USA it was possible to reach final peace only after 2 years. The real process of building peace between the Kurds started only with the launching of the project of the UN “Oil for food”, which required the party leaders to implement collaborative work in order to profit. The main reason for this request was the fact that the oil extraction without united efforts was technically impossible during this divided period. As a consequence the United Parliament has already resumed its work in 2002. As a result of the project the Kurds received the revenue of nearly $ 8.35 billion in only 2 years, and another $ 4 billion transferred from the UN to Kurdistan was added to it. Not only did the economy restore but also surpassed the pre-war and Iraq’s other regions’ economic level. According to the GDP per capita the Kurdish area of autonomy slightly differs from other parts of Iraq: the economy entered the period of development and stability. It should be noted that the political system functioning at the territory of autonomy is not like the classical model. These parties are not political organizations in the classical sense, these are more like tribal unions. The conservative party mainly operates in the south and the east of the country, where Sorani Kurds live, while the Democrats are in the north and the west of the country, close to the Kurmanjis. So, these party divisions are not the result of the political or economic process but the result of interethnic tribal collapses of those who strive to reach dominance. Soon a new issue of Ansar al-Islam extremist terrorist group arose for the Kurds, which was possible to finally eradicate only with the intervention of the US.
The bases of the Statehood
Alongside with all the above-mentioned factors and shortcomings, surely there are also advantages which make the process of the Kurdish state building possible.
As the 2003 invasion showed, not only did the Kurds learn to take the opportunity but also to work together. Despite the international pressure and Turkish threats, the Kurds were able to display will and to record territorial achievements (not without the support of the US) at the end of the war. After the war, a similar situation was created when forming the new Iraqi reality. After Saddam’s overthrow, the constructing of a new liberal and unified Iraqi statehood launched in the State. But after a few very serious political struggles against some countries, including the US, the Kurds were able to achieve a federalization of the State and a special status in this new reality. The constitution adopted in 2005 gives the Kurds a real chance to legally break away from Iraq at a needful moment and to declare its independence. The basis of the state building or their potential can be divided into 6 groups, which are economic, resource, military, educational-cultural, national-legal and international support.
Compared with the neighboring territories, the relative stability of Kurdish autonomy has had a wonderful influence on the latter’s economy. Today on the territory of Kurdish autonomy a construction boom is taking place, several independent trade zones have been formed and the average income is 25% more than in Iraq. In the comparison with the 90-s, the number of foreign investments has been centupled and the number of labor emigrants has increased several times. The index of nominal startup capital has significantly increased. Iraqi Kurdistan presently has the lowest poverty rate in the region. There is a traditionally developed agriculture (this region has always been Iraq’s agricultural leader) while the industry is mainly based on oil refining. As a result of Saddam’s regime collapse, the regional instability and the activities of IS, nearly 1․2 million people immigrated to Iraqi Kurdistan. So, as a result of the oil bag, stability and intelligent governance the economy of the Kurdish autonomy is in a good condition which makes it the guarantee of a statehood building.
According to experts, 50-60% of the Iraqi oil resources are in the territory of the Kurdish autonomy which makes this area 6th in the world according to the quantity of oil resources (nearly 45 billion barrel). Traditionally Kirkuk was the center of Iraqi oil industry, which is now de facto under the possession of the Kurdish autonomy. There are also major oil resources in the surroundings of Sulaymaniyah, Erbil and Dohuk. Kurds successfully managed to circumvent the regime of Baghdad and all the appeals of it on the international platforms and now they are actively engaged in the processing of oil resources of this territory. This area is also notable for its large resources of drinking water, which make up about 30-35 percent of pan-Iraqi resources.
According to Iraq’s constitution Iraqi armed forces are forbidden to enter the territory of the Kurdish autonomy, moreover the latter has the right to use its own armed forces. The Kurdish armed forces are called “Peshmerga”, which is translated from Kurdish as “those going towards the death”. The total number of staff is about 120 thousand people including the main personnel divided into battalions, special legions, artillery and the mechanized legions, engineering units, the headquarters, the administration of Ministry of Defence, etc. the staff of “Peshmerga” is planned to reach up to 200,000 people. The main part of the weapons is of the Soviet era. Alongside with “Peshmerga”, the national Security Service formed with the Israelis help also operates. There are 2 airports in Kurdistan that are of the major military and economic importance. From the perspective of the young statehood the armed forces that are the part of Iraqi Kurdistan and their level of activeness are of a vital importance especially in the explosive regional conditions.
Educational and Cultural
From the moment of the creation of Kurdish statehood for the first time in this ethnos’ history the education began to be held in Kurdish. Moreover there are both school and university graduates that are considered to be the first generation in history that was educated in Kurdish. The Secondary education is in the spotlight of the country, many international schools are opened. Nowadays there are 18 Universities in the territory of Kurdish autonomy, but University of Sulaymaniyah, Salahaddin University-Erbil and the American University of Iraq Sulaymaniyah are especially remarkable. It’s very difficult to overestimate the role of education in the state-building process. The Kurds have achieved unprecedented success in this matter by giving rise to a new generation of intellectuals that have state mentality and excellent education that they got either abroad or with the help of foreign, good specialists. And this is the generation that, by having the mentality typical to a titular nation, is meant to solve one of the main Kurdish problems, which is the still-existing dissention in the tribal background. Enormous costs and serious academic resources are needed in order to educate such generation and the American University of Iraq Sulaymaniyah is an interesting example of provision. Having American financing and personnel, this educational institution has one real aim which is the upbringing of future leaders of Kurdish State. Simply put, the nationwide elite, which the Kurds have lacked for centuries, is being gradually formed. The Kurdish modern educational processes would be feasible without the Kurdish alphabet, which was created by Armenians with the support of British and French scholars.
It’s also noteworthy, that there exist the Kurdish TV channels, the part of which belongs to the Autonomy’s administration, which allows us to guess the information of what direction is being reported by these. Anyway, it should be noted that the preparation of the audience is also a necessary step in the process of the state-building.
Kurdish traditional culture that is structurally closer to the culture of the nomadic tribes of Iran, is absolutely not suitable in its essence for sedentary lifestyle and state building. That’s the reason why at present we witness certain transformations and outpourings that can be observed in Kurdish cultural levels, its westernization and modernization. However, there still are some elements of direct democracy that are typical to tribal categories, for example chaykhanas that are widespread in Sulaymaniyah.
Governmental and legal
As it has already been mentioned, Kurdish autonomy is the only stable area in modern Iraq, moreover only the regime of Kurdish autonomy is able to perform all of its functions along its borders throughout Iraq. At the present stage of the disintegration of Iraq, the consensus about the necessity of forming an independent statehood out of it is increasingly strengthening. The relations, precisely, the lack of the relations of the autonomy and the central government of Baghdad also promote it. After the ISIS’s appearance and losing of the overland communications with the capital this connection is no longer relevant. The autonomy has been running its internal policies and also recently the external economic relations independently for several years. There are also some foreign political relations with separate countries and organizations.
In the sense of the Autonomy establishment, the reforms made by President Barzani from 2006 to 2009 are quite remarkable: they were about the social, economic and administrative areas. Special attention was paid to human rights, women’s rights, the principles of ensuring the private property and the establishment of mechanisms ensuring their protection. Serious work has been done in the direction of providing international investments, developing mining and building relations with Turkey. In the territory of Iraqi autonomy the elections mainly have transparent, fair and periodic nature which is guaranteed by the direct participation and help of the US. The party system operating in the territory of the autonomy has not undergone any major changes during the last decade and is almost in the same condition.
Throughout the history of the Kurdish Autonomy we are witnessing active international interventions, which almost always have the pro-Kurdish direction.
The US’s support is of a particular importance. Over the last 20 years of Kurdish autonomy no serious process or change has occurred without the military or economic active support of the US, which is already quite a notable fact. Even a non-professional study makes it clear that the current favorable situation in Kurdistan is largely due to that support. The investments of the EU, Norway, etc. (mainly Western) made in the territory of the Autonomy are also noteworthy. By its implemented activities the UN stands out, which has hardly provided such large-scale assistance to any other Autonomy in the world.
- Mackey, The Reckoning: Iraq and the Legacy of Saddam, 2002.
- Romano, The Kurdish Nationalist Movement, 2006.
- Barth, Principles of Social Organization in Southern Kurdistan, 1953.
- McKiernan, The Kurds, a People in Search of Their Homeland, 2006.
- Human Rights Watch, 2005 Vol. 17, No. 2(D)
Author: Areg Kochinyan: © All rights are reserved
Translated by Tatevik Tumanyan