The Kurdistan Region of Iraq: Stabilizer or Spoiler? by Denise Natali

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Denise Natali holds the Minerva Chair at the Institute for National Strategic Studies (INSS) of the National Defense University, and is an adjunct associate professor at the Georgetown University Center for Security Studies. She has authored numerous publications on Kurdish identity, economic and regional politics, including The Kurds and the State: Evolving National Identity in Iraq, Turkey and Iran and The Kurdish Quasi-State.The views expressed are the author’s own and do not reflect the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the U.S. Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.

"Turkey has become one of the KRG’s most important external patrons, with large-scale investments in infrastructure, construction, and the energy sector..."
"By moving Kurdish peshmerga forces into the territories and ‘Kurdifying’ the populations, the KRG has unilaterally reconfigured the internal coundaries of what it perceives as Iraq and the Kurdistan Region..."
"Despite the appearance of increased economic autonomy, the KRG has become more dependent upon Baghdad than ever before..."

Despite the contentious Iraqi political arena, the Kurdistan Region of Iraq is pressing ahead with its ambitious agenda for economic development and greater autonomy. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) continues to negotiate large-scale energy deals with foreign governments and international oil companies (IOCs), expand its commercial and investment interests, and assure internal stability by controlling the use of force within its borders. Economic opportunities have encouraged political cooperation with regional states, especially Turkey, while reaffirming shared border security commitments. The KRG not only has become Ankara’s key—if not only—regional ally, but its partner in checking the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (Partiye Karkaren Kurdistane-PKK) and its expanding trans-border affiliates.

Yet, the Kurdistan Region’s particular condition as a quasi-state also makes it a political spoiler, or a potential one. In the absence of external sovereignty, the region thrives on international recognition, external patronage, and a weak central Iraqi government to advance its nationalist ambitions. While these features of quasi-statehood help affirm the KRG’s autonomy, they challenge the Iraqi government’s own state-rebuilding efforts that seek to consolidate its authority and territorial integrity. Additionally, the region’s landlocked position and absence of an independent revenue source leave it highly dependent upon Baghdad and regional states for its economic and political survival. These geopolitical and financial realities may encourage deal-making to secure Kurdish interests or the status quo in Iraq; however, they can also source conflict within and across Kurdish nationalist communities beyond Iraq’s borders... (purchase article...)