The Kurds are the largest ethnic group in the world without a state, but the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan situated in northern Iraq is on the cusp of changing that. Iraq’s Kurds, long persecuted under Saddam Hussein, were granted their first taste of freedom after the American invasion of Iraq in 1991 led to a no-fly zone and relative safety. The subsequent invasion and toppling of the Batthist government yielded further control to the Kurds. They now exist with almost complete autonomy over their territory in northern Iraq and function under their own government.
Building a nation is not without its challenges. Kurdistan’s oil-dependent and civil servant-heavy economy is at its lowest point in years. The landlocked region is without access to ports and unable to export its plentiful oil and natural gas resources effectively. The fall in global oil prices and the government in Baghdad’s withholding of Kurdistan’s share of the national budget have plummeted the region’s economy and stalled its rapid development. Additionally, Kurdistan is waging an expensive war while supporting those fleeing conflict across the region. For for the past 23 months, Kurdistan’s Peshmerga forces have battled ISIS along an 600 mile border and the autonomous region hosts over 300,000 Syrian refugees and over 1 million displaced Iraqis. Due to the crisis, government salaries have been withheld for months, sparking protests and strikes by doctors and teachers - even fighters on the front battling ISIS have had pay withheld. Despite its financial difficulties, the region offers relative stability and safety for its estimated 8.35 million residents. In comparison to the waves of violence and unrest in the rest of Iraq, Kurdistan has had very few violent attacks within its borders.
2015 - 2016