Chaos is spreading in Iraq as the militant jihadi group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) and its affiliated members launch operations throughout the country, and Syria’s civil is still grinding on. There might be only one possible winner in these ongoing and merging conflicts — the Kurds.
The Kurds, an ethnic group numbering around 30 million people, are spread throughout northern Iraq and Syria, western Iran, and eastern Turkey. They are considered to be the largest stateless national group in the world.
The continuing chaos in the Middle East could change this. Kurds in northern Syria have declared autonomy in January, with the backing of Iraqi Kurdistan and the condemnation of neighbouring Turkey.
Iraqi Kurdistan is already a fully autonomous region, and has been spared much of the chaos that has affected the rest of the country in the past few years. In the face of the recent ISIS advances, Iraqi Kurds have actually gained ground as they took control of Kirkuk, a city long coveted by the Kurds but outside of the Iraqi Kurdistan autonomous area.
The Kurds in Iraq have actually expanded the total territory they control by 40% since ISIS took over Mosul. This has fuelled fears in Iraq that Iraqi Kurdistan may declare itself a fully independent state.
Iraqi Kurdistan already runs itself in much the same way an independent nation would. It has its own armed forces, and it has been selling its own oil for half the price of what the rest of Iraq charges through a pipeline to the Turkish port of Ceyhan. It is estimated that the Kurdish region contains a quarter of all of Iraq’s oil. That figure is likely an understatement now that the Kurds control Kirkuk — a key oil hub.
But not everything is rosy in Kurdistan. Iraqi Kurdistan itself is split between two main Kurdish groups, the Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union (PUK). These two fought a three year long civil war from 1994 to 1997 that left upwards of 5,000 fighters and civilians dead. Today, the groups are in a functioning power sharing agreement, and might be in charge of the world’s latest self-declared independent if events in Iraq continue on their present course.
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