Iraq’s Kurds are independent in all but name.
Technically, Kurdistan is inside Iraq but the Kurds who live there behave as if they already live in a separate state. Kurds have their own prime minister, parliament, national anthem, flag, and their own 175,000-man Army, the pesh merga, which means “those who face death”. And the majority of Kurds will tell you they want nothing to do with Baghdad and the rest of Iraq. Why would they when they’re doing just fine on their own?
Since 2003, Kurds have developed a parallel state. It has been the most stable place in an unstable country.
It seemed an island of prosperity and stability, even as the rest of Iraq was effected by violence following the American invasion.
There are more cranes in Erbil than minarets. There are luxury hotels, malls with thousands shops, apartment complex known as “Dream City,” in which some of the units are being sold for $1 million.
The recent surge by ISIS, a drop in oil prices and the disputes with Baghdad, have taken a toll on the Kurdish economy.
Iraqi Kurdistan exists in dangerous surroundings. But that has been the case since 1991, when it first got extreme autonomy. Since then, it has steadily entrenched itself as the rest of Iraq has fallen apart, especially after IS grabbed a chunk of it.
The political map of northern Iraq has changed since the Islamic State invaded Mosul, Iraq’s second city. Kurdish forces are now in full control of Kirkuk and Sinjar and have claimed control of hundred kilometers of land that had been under control of Iraq.
For the Kurds, the new reality has amounted to a paradox: the whole world wants the Kurds to fight ISIS, but the Kurds themselves mostly just want to secure Kurdistan.
Under the threat of ISIS, the Kurds appear remarkably united in their eagerness for an independent state.