The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) had the potential to be one of the Middle East’s most exciting political evolutions. A resource-rich, self-ruling enclave in Iraq, with a multi-party, somewhat multi-ethnic parliamentary system, born in the early 2000s and enjoying broad international support in the shadow of a genocidal campaign of repression, the KRG’s future looked bright. Although the autonomous region has survived much of the violence that has consumed Iraq since 2003, and experienced widespread social development, the KRG has descended into a quagmire of historical rivalries, political nepotism and increasingly autocratic rule.
Since the Islamic State’s (ISIS) Blitzkrieg across Iraq in 2014, the KRG has struggled with the jihadi menace on and within its borders, tense relations with Baghdad and falling oil prices that have decimated its once booming economy. Yet the prospects of Iraq’s Kurds are far from bleak. ISIS’s advance and the collapse of Iraq’s army allowed the Peshmerga, the Kurdish armed forces, to annex land the KRG has long considered its rightful property, including the ethnically divided city of Kirkuk, the “Kurdish Jerusalem”. Now sitting atop what would be the world’s tenth largest supply of oil, if and when stability returns in the wake of ISIS’s retreat, the KRG, the darling of Western and particularly local powers, holds enviable advantages if it can get its own house in order.