Kurdistan Autonomous Region

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هه‌رێمی کوردستان ( Zentralkurdisch )
Herêma Kurdistan ( Northern Kurdish )
إقليم كردستان ( arabic )
Kurdistan region
Flag of Kurdistan
Coat of arms of the Kurdistan region
flag coat of arms
Official language Kurdish ( Sorani and Kurmanji ) and Arabic
Capital Erbil
Government system parliamentary democracy
Head of state Nêçîrvan Barzanî
Head of government Masrur Barzani
surface 46,861.41 km²
population 5,895,052 (2018) , Kurdistan also houses a maximum of approx. 2 million refugees.
Population density 128 inhabitants per km²
Population development   + 2.4% per year
gross domestic product
  • Total (nominal)
  • GDP / inh. (nominal)
  • $ 23.6 billion
  • 4,452 USD
founding Way to autonomy
  • March 11, 1970: partial autonomy
  • October 1991: De facto autonomy
  • 4th July 1992: establishment of the regional government
  • January 30, 2005: Recognition in the Iraqi Constitution
National anthem Ey Reqîb
Time zone UTC + 3
ISO 3166 IQ-SU , IQ-AR , IQ-DA
Internet TLD .krd
Iraqi Kurdistan on world map.png
Official borders Areas under Kurdish control Areas claimed by the Kurdish regional government Rest of Iraq
  • Official limits
  • Areas under Kurdish control
  • Areas claimed by the Kurdish regional government
  • Rest of Iraq
  • Coordinates: 36 ° 0 ′  N , 45 ° 0 ′  E The Autonomous Region of Kurdistan ( Kurdish هه‌رێمی کوردستان Herêma Kurdistan , Arabic إقليم كردستان Iqlīm Kurdistān ) is an autonomous region of Iraq . The region has an independent parliament based in Erbil (Hewlêr) and maintains its own military units, the Peshmerga .

    In 1970, the Kurdish population in northern Iraq was granted partial legal autonomy for the first time in an agreement by the central government. The desired Kurdish partial autonomy was not initially able to establish itself in this time, which was marked by numerous ethnic-political conflicts. The formation of a regional parliament in 1992 after the establishment of the no-fly zone over northern Iraq led to the de facto autonomy of the region. After the Iraq war , the region was recognized by special law. In the Iraqi constitution adopted in 2005, the regional authority “ region ” was legally created and the autonomy rights of the Kurdistan region that had been gained until then were consolidated in this regional authority. Currently, however, the Kurdistan region is the only region in Iraq, which is defined as federal.

    The official territory of the Kurdistan region consists of the Iraqi governorates of Dahuk , Erbil , as-Sulaimaniyya and Halabdscha . In addition, parts of the neighboring governorates are claimed, some of which are in fact controlled by the Kurdish regional government.


    According to the Iraqi constitution, the name of the region is Kurdistan Region ( Arabic إقليم كردستان, DMG Iqlīm Kurdistān ). In Kurdish هه‌رێمی کوردستان Herêma Kurdistanê . The regional administration appears in the German-speaking area as the Kurdistan-Iraq region and thus follows the language used by the Federal Foreign Office and the Austrian Federal Ministry for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs . In the mass media, however, the terms Iraqi Kurdistan and Northern Iraq are widely used.

    The Kurdish regional administration or government itself, which is also used as a synonym for the region, is called in Kurdish حكومه‌تى هه‌رێمى كوردستان Hikûmeta Herêma Kurdistanê , or in English Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).

    Kurdish activists used the expression South Kurdistan ( Kurdish .) For all Kurdish settled areas in Iraq beyond the borders of the region باشووری کوردستان Başûrê Kurdistanê ).


    Lake Dukan near the town of Sulaimaniyya
    The Great Zab in Erbil Governorate


    The Kurdistan Autonomous Region is located in northern Iraq and consists of the governorates of Sulaimaniyya , Erbil , Dahuk and Halabdscha . It borders three countries: Syria to the west, Turkey to the north and Iran to the east . The northernmost city in the region is Zaxo , the easternmost is Halabja and the westernmost Dohuk .


    Most of the landscape in Kurdistan is mountainous. In the northeast is the Zāgros Mountains with the Cheekha Dar (3,611 m), the highest mountain in Iraq. The rivers flow mostly from north to south and partly from east to west. The main rivers are the Große Zab and the Kleine Zab . The Big Zab has its source in southeastern Turkey, the Little Zab in northwestern Iran. Both rivers flow into the Tigris .

    In the vicinity of the city of Ranya is the Dukandamm with the associated Dukansee, the largest lake in the autonomous region of Kurdistan.


    The climate in Kurdistan is semi-arid .

    March has average temperatures between 13 ° C and 18 ° C.

    The summers are dry and hot. In the following months the temperature values ​​rise drastically and in the months June to September the temperatures reach their maximum with an average of 39 ° C to 44 ° C, whereby values ​​of almost 50 ° C are reached on a few days.

    Autumn has temperatures comparable to spring with an average of 24 ° C to 29 ° C. However, it is characterized by heavy rainfall, which also explains the mean annual value of 375–724 mm.

    The winters are generally mild, with temperature lows of 2 ° C to 7 ° C and temperature heights of 7 ° C to 13 ° C. In the mountain regions with their rivers and rich vegetation, the climate is cool and rainy.


    Autonomous Region of Kurdistan (Autonomous Region of Kurdistan)
    Koi Sanjaq
    Koi Sanjaq
    Cities of the region

    The total population of the autonomous region of Kurdistan was around 5.5 million people in 2015. About 36% of the population are younger than 15 years and 60% between 15 and 64 years. Only 4% of the population is 65 years of age or older. The average age is 20 years and life expectancy is 70 years. The birth rate is 3.1 children per woman, with the highest rate in Dahuk Governorate (3.9) and the lowest in Sulaimaniyya Governorate (2.3).

    The autonomous region of Kurdistan has also been home to over two million refugees since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war and the advance of the terrorist organization Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. Around 10,000 people are housed in 2,000 tents in the Kawergosk refugee camp in the Erbil province alone.

    Metropolitan areas

    The urbanization rate is around 81.6%, above the Iraqi average of 68.9%. Ten large cities are located in the autonomous region. The capitals of the governorates of Sulaimaniyya , Erbil and Dahuk are by far the most populous cities in the region. More than 50% of the population live in these cities.

    Hawler Castle.jpg
    Erbil Sulaimaniyya

    city Residents Governorate

    Zakho City.jpg
    Zaxo Dohuk
    City of Duhok.jpg

    1 Erbil 1,400,000 Erbil
    2 Sulaimaniyya 807.614 as-Sulaimaniyya
    3 Dohuk 500,000 Dahuk
    4th Zaxo 350,000 Dahuk
    5 Shaqlawa 124,628 Erbil
    6th Rawanduz 102,399 Erbil
    7th Ranya 61,300 as-Sulaimaniyya
    8th Halabja 57,000 Halabja
    9 Semile 50,000 Dahuk
    10 Koi Sanjaq 44,987 Erbil

    Ethnicities and languages

    The majority of the population consists of Kurds . Chaldeans , Assyrians , Turkmens , Armenians and Arabs form minorities . The Kurdish languages are the official language in the region and are used extensively in the media and as written languages. Formally, the Arabic language is also an official language, but it is rarely spoken. In the districts of Sulaimaniyya and Erbil the Kurdish Sorani is predominantly spoken, in Dahuk the Kurmanji is . Due to the more intensive use of the media and the increased mobility of the population, almost all residents of Kurdistan now speak both Kurdish languages. There are also speakers of the Gorani in the extreme southeast of the region . Furthermore, regional minority languages such as Armenian , Syrian or Turkmen's Azerbaijani are recognized.

    Two writing systems are used in the Kurdistan region. To write Sorani, which is most widely spoken in the autonomous region of Kurdistan, the Persian script with special characters is used. The Kurmanji, which is spoken by the majority of all parts of Kurdistan , uses both the Kurdish-Latin alphabet and the Persian script.


    The majority of the population belongs to Sunni Islam . There are also significant minorities of the Yazidis , Jews , Christians and Yarsan . These minorities can largely live out their religion freely in the region. Numerous attacks on churches and ecclesiastical institutions in the rest of Iraq resulted in an escape of members of the Iraqi Christian minorities to the region. The majority of the Yazidis, whose main settlement area is in the Sinjar district, also fled to the region due to the 2014 Iraq crisis . Some of the Yazidis who fled, however, complained about discrimination and a lack of protection from the Kurdish regional government. The number of Zoroastrians has been increasing again in recent years, especially as a result of conversions by former Muslims. The Zoroastrians are currently seeking recognition of official status.


    After the fall of the Ottoman Empire

    The Vilayet Mosul in what is now the autonomous region of Kurdistan in Northern Iraq

    Until 1918, the area of ​​today's Iraqi Kurdistan was geographically part of the Ottoman province of Mosul .

    After the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War I , it was divided up by the victorious powers. In the province of Mosul, the Kurds made up the majority of the population. According to US President Woodrow Wilson's 14-point program , this would have given them the right to self-determination. Therefore, it was recognized in the Treaty of Sèvres on August 10, 1920 that the Mosul area should become part of a larger Kurdish state.

    In reality, however, the former Ottoman province of Mosul became a colonial area of ​​interest. In the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916 it was originally added to France , but Great Britain established itself in Mosul in early November 1918. At the Sanremo Conference on April 25, 1920, the British accepted the mandate over Mesopotamia from the League of Nations . In addition to Mosul, it included the former Ottoman provinces of Baghdad and Basra . The Kurdish populated area was seen as particularly important for the newly formed state because of its oil deposits. On August 23, 1921, the Kingdom of Iraq was finally established to represent the interests of the British in the Middle East.

    France accepted British influence over Iraqi Kurdistan early on, as a French company received shares in Iraqi oil. The Turkey , however, leaning after the victorious war of liberation against the new political order, because on the one hand would not tolerate a state in the northern Kurdish settlement areas and secondly the Mosulgebiet claimed for himself: In the Treaty of Lausanne was on 24 July 1923, the Treaty of Sevres Revised in favor of Turkey. An independent Kurdish state was no longer required internationally, which was also in the interests of Great Britain. This completed the four-part division of the Kurdish regions into Iraq and Turkey, and the French League of Nations mandate for Syria and Persia . However, Turkey was unable to prevail on the Mosul question : on December 16, 1925, the League of Nations decided in favor of Great Britain that the Mosul area should remain with Iraq. From this point on, every conflict between Iraqi Kurdistan and the central government was considered an internal Iraqi matter.

    From the beginning there was a Kurdish opposition to the British-Iraqi rule. Already in May / June 1919 Mehmûd Berzincî , who had been installed as governor of Sulaimaniyya , rebelled against the British, but was defeated with the help of the Royal Air Force . On November 18, 1922, Mehmûd proclaimed the Kingdom of Kurdistan in Sulaimaniya. The British bombed and occupied the city in June / July 1923 and May 1924 and ended Mehmûd's uprising.

    Revolts against the central government

    During the Iraqi monarchy

    On June 30, 1930, the last Anglo-Iraqi treaty was signed , in which the end of the British mandate was prepared and the future relationship between the two countries was regulated. The status of the Kurds was excluded from this agreement. In September 1930 protests broke out in Sulaimaniya, which culminated in a final uprising by Mehmûd. After the uprising was put down in April 1931, he was placed under house arrest in Baghdad for the rest of his life.

    The first uprisings of the Kurds were not yet national uprisings, but limited to individual tribes. From the 1930s onwards, the resistance movement became increasingly broad. The Barzan region under Ahmed Barzani participated in the fight against the Iraqi central government from November 1931. In June 1932, Ahmed fled to Turkey with his younger brother Mustafa Barzani , from which they were extradited to Iraq two years later. Mustafa Barzani escaped from exile in 1943, led another uprising and demanded autonomy for Iraqi Kurdistan. Militarily, he was able to assert himself with the help of guerrilla warfare . After the British Air Force intervened in the war, Barzani fled to Iran with 3,000 insurgents in October 1945. There the Kurdish Republic of Mahabad was founded on January 22, 1946 with the support of the Soviet Union , and Barzani helped defend it. While in exile in Iran, Barzani founded the Kurdish Freedom Party ( Kurdish Rizgari Kurd ) in January 1946 , which was renamed the Democratic Party of Kurdistan ( Kurdish Partiya Demokrata Kurdistanê ) on August 16 . After the fall of the Republic of Mahabad, Barzani returned to Iraq on April 28, 1947 with about 500 fighters, and one month later, on May 27, 1947, the next uprising began. This led to the escape to the Soviet Union on June 15, 1947. Barzani spent the next eleven years there in exile.

    During the Iraqi Republic

    In 1958, the Iraqi monarchy ended after a military coup under Abd al-Karim Qasim . Since 1958 Iraq has defined itself as a state of two nations - the Arabs and the Kurds. The Kurds in northern Iraq, led by Mustafa Barzani , demanded autonomy, which on September 11, 1961 led to an uprising against the central government. Two days later, the Iraqi government bombed the village of Barzan - the birthplace of Mustafa Barzani. From September 16 to October 10, 1961, the Iraqi army intensified its military offensive against the Kurdish resistance movement . During this period, the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) was formally dissolved by the government on September 23. In mid-November, Barzani asked the United Nations for help. Iran provided military aid and weapons and ammunition.

    On January 10, 1963, the Iraqi government offered the Kurds an amnesty in case they lay down their arms. After the Ba'ath Party came to power, negotiations between the two conflicting parties took place from February 19 to March 1, 1963, but they failed. In June 1963, the central government launched another offensive against the KDP rebels. On June 13, 1963, 165 rebels were killed in this attack in Duhok . The attacks continued. The Syrian government sent 5,000 soldiers to Iraq to support the Iraqi army . Meanwhile, the Soviet Union accused the Iraqis of genocide against the Kurds.

    The climax of the conflict occurred on August 4, 1963, when the Iraqi forces completely occupied Barzan. After the temporary overthrow of the Ba'ath government, President Abd al-Salam Arif and Mustafa Barzani agreed in February 1964 to resume negotiations. On February 15, negotiations between the conflicting parties began in Baghdad. In April 1965 there was another military conflict between Kurdish rebels and Iraqi troops in the region around Sulaimaniyya . About 10,000 people were killed and 80,000 injured during the conflict from 1961 to 1966.

    On June 30, 1966, Iraq announced amnesty for KDP rebels. Until the end of September 1968 there were no further military conflicts. In October 1968, however, the conflict continued again.

    Partial autonomy 1970/74

    1970: Iraq's Vice President Saddam Hussein and Mustafa Barzani before the signing of the March Manifesto
    Haschim Aqrawi led the left, pro-Iraqi wing of the KDP and became the first head of government of the autonomous region

    On March 23, 1969, the Iraqi government offered the Kurds the right to self-determination. From September 1969 to March 1970 the negotiations on the self-determination of the Kurds between KDP representatives and the central government in Baghdad ran. On March 11, 1970, both parties signed a 15-point peace treaty.

    The conflict ended with the agreement of March 11, 1970 (“Manifesto of March 11”) and the establishment and recognition of the Kurdish Autonomous Region in Iraq. This agreement also accepted the holding of a referendum in the oil-rich Kirkuk. However, both the Ba'ath government and Barzani agreed that the agreements in the manifesto should not be fulfilled immediately, but every four years. As part of a National Progressive Front formed in 1973, Barzani's KDP was also supposed to participate in the government of the entire Iraqi state, which, however, led to the split in the KDP. Not all of the agreements have been fulfilled by the Ba'ath government to Mustafa Barzani's satisfaction. Another point of contention arose with the definition of the boundaries of the autonomous area. Mohammad Pahlavi , Shah of Iran , participated indirectly in this dispute . In agreement with the United States , he assured the Kurds military and financial aid if they were to enforce their autonomy by force against the government. Barzani took up this offer. In April 1974 the war started again between the two sides. Compared to the previous military clashes, the Baath leadership now used phosphorus bombs against the Kurds.

    A Kurdish legislative council (parliament) and a Kurdish executive council (government) in Erbil were supposed to govern this area partially autonomously. In fact, however, the Legislative Council, and thus the entire area, was under the control of Baghdad. The plan was to establish a Kurdish academy of science and to expand health care and education to less developed areas that had suffered from previous fighting. Kurdish became the official language for the first time.

    Chair of the Executive Board

    Chair of the Legislative Council

    Autonomous area 1970–1975 with the region affected by the Barzani uprising 1974–1975 (red)

    Until 1975 and during the Iraqi-Iranian war 1980 to 1988 , most of the three provinces were in fact not under the control of the Iraqi central government. It was only present in the provincial capitals and large towns with Iraqi garrisons.

    In 1975, Iran and Iraq decided through the Algiers Agreement not to interfere in the other country's internal politics. This agreement resulted in Iran's support for the Kurdish uprisings ending abruptly. A few days later, Iraq launched the next military offensive against the KDP rebels; who now fought without the help of Iran. They suffered a heavy defeat. In the same year Mustafa Barzani withdrew from politics and ended the uprising. As part of the Baath regime's Arabization policy , around 200,000 Kurds were deported to the south of the country between May 1975 and April 1976.

    In 1983 a new rebellion began against the Iraqi central government. The regime under Saddam Hussein responded to the Anfal operation with the systematic murder and deportation of Kurds. In 1988 the Iraqi Air Force carried out a poison gas attack on the city of Halabja . Between 3200 and 5000 people died:

    • 3200 names of victims were identified in a systematic survey.
    • Dilip Hiro reports 4000 victims.
    • 5000 victims are named in the request to the Bundestag, printed matter 17/1022.
    • 6,800 victims are named in the "New York Times" on January 17, 2003.

    De facto autonomy from 1991

    Kurdish autonomous region from 1991

    After the defeat of Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath regime in the Second Gulf War , the Kurds rose up in the 1991 uprising ( Raperîn ). The United States , Great Britain and Turkey established a no-fly zone for the Iraqi Air Force in northern Iraq with Operation Northern Watch . Under this protection from the Baghdad central government, the Kurdish population was able to develop a certain degree of independence. On May 19, 1992 a parliamentary election was held in which the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) received 51 seats and the Democratic Party of Kurdistan (DPK) received 49 seats. The DPK controlled the north of the autonomous region, the PUK the south. The relationship between the two parties was tense and in 1994 led to a Kurdish civil war , in which Baghdad and Iran were also involved. As a result of the conflict, two Kurdish administrations emerged - one in Erbil and one in Sulaimaniyya.

    In August 1996, parliament ended the state of emergency in the Kurdish provinces, but gave the army leadership powers over military operations, arrests and censorship in all provinces of the country. In January 1997, the Turkish army leadership rejected an offer of a ceasefire by the PKK; on May 14, 1997, Turkish associations penetrated up to 200 km into the autonomous region of Kurdistan in northern Iraq.

    Iraq war and consolidation of autonomy rights

    Distribution of Kurdistan after the war

    In 2003 the Kurdish regional government took part in the Iraq war on the side of the American- led coalition of the willing and was thus able to increase its influence. Even before the new constitution of Iraq was passed, the Kurdistan Autonomous Region was recognized by the central government through a special law. In the constitution, the local authority of the Iraqi regions was created and given almost complete sovereignty; an indirect, constitutional safeguarding of the autonomy rights acquired by the Kurdistan region. The final size of the Kurdistan region should be clarified later. On January 30, 2005, in addition to the elections for the Iraqi National Assembly, elections for the new Kurdish Parliament took place, the latter also with the aim of overcoming the DPK-PUK conflict and uniting the administrations in Erbil and Sulaimaniyya.

    On June 13, 2005, after months of negotiations on the type and composition of the presidency, the parliament in Erbil was convened and Masud Barzani was elected President of the region. His nephew Nêçîrvan Barzanî became prime minister . The non-binding independence referendum took place on January 30th .

    On January 21, 2006, the two major parties were finally able to agree to merge the two administrations. On May 7, 2006, the reunified parliament met for the first time in Erbil. Masud and Nêçîrvan Barzani were confirmed in office. The ministerial posts were divided among the parties. To this day, the cabinet also includes a Minister for National Defense and a Minister for Foreign Affairs.

    In August 2006, Barzani announced in a decree that only the flag of the autonomous region should be hoisted on public buildings throughout the region. In his opinion, the Iraqi flag of that time represented a past full of violence, war and death for the Kurdish people in Iraq. This decree led to a " flag dispute " which convinced many that the Kurdish government is not aiming for a federation but for its own state. It was only after the state parliament introduced an interim flag for Iraq that Barzani stipulated that the Kurdish and Iraqi flags should now be displayed on all public buildings. The agreement on the interim flag was also achieved because the summit of the Arab League was to take place in Erbil at the beginning of 2008 and the conflict over the flag was to be settled by then.

    After the Iraq war

    Turkish intervention 2007

    Northern Iraq has been a retreat for the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) since the second Gulf War in 1991 . For years, Turkey has insisted that those responsible should fight the PKK on the ground. The USA and the Kurdish government did not comply. After the Turkish parliament gave the military a free hand in a resolution in October 2007, PKK positions were bombed several times with planes and cannons in December 2007. This conflict is clouding relations between Turkey and the Kurdish regional government.

    Some diplomatic contacts were made under the current government of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan . Ahmet Davutoğlu was the first Turkish foreign minister to visit the autonomous region in October 2009.

    Protests from 2011

    On February 17, 2011, protests broke out in Sulaimaniyya, mostly carried out by young people. The occasion was an arson in the office of the Gorran party in Erbil. Mostly young people protested against the corruption of the two ruling parties, the lack of public services and the lack of free reporting by journalists. The headquarters of the DPK were pelted with stones, then three young men were shot dead by the security forces. The unrest spread to other cities and lasted for several weeks. All demonstrations were banned in Erbil and Dahuk. A total of 10 demonstrators were killed and around 500 wounded in the course of the protests. In Erbil on February 25, 2011, 2,000 people tried to protest against the regional government. Many people were arrested. Masud Barzani then announced reforms.

    Iraq crisis 2014

    Peshmerga taking Kirkuk in June 2014

    With the advance of the Organization Islamic State (IS) and the outbreak of the Iraq crisis in 2014 , the Iraqi central government lost control of large parts of the country. The Kurdish regional government used this to bring the areas it claimed under its control after it was retaken from IS, including the previously controversial city of Kirkuk in July 2014 . The dispute between Erbil and Baghdad over unrealized censuses, referendums and problems with oil sales intensified. As a result, Masud Barzani commissioned a referendum on the independence of the Kurdish region, which increased political pressure on the then Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki .

    The autonomous region of Kurdistan is seen as an important ally in the fight against IS. In contrast to most of the Iraqi army, the Peshmerga have decades of combat experience. They are deployed in both Iraq and Syria, as in 2015 in the embattled Kobanê ( Arabic عين العرب, DMG Ayn al-ʿArab ). When ISIS captured the Sinjar Mountains in 2014, there were allegations on the part of the Yazidis that the Peshmerga had let them down. One month later, IS was pushed back out of the region.

    In mid-December 2014, the Peshmerga started their largest ground offensive against IS with the battle for Sharaf ad-Din . According to President Barzani, the regions around the Sinjar Mountains in particular were liberated. Sinjar, an important place for the Yazidis , remained contested in 2015. On August 3, President Barzani announced his intention to incorporate the Sinjar region into the Kurdistan Autonomous Region. After the major offensive Operation Free Shingal in autumn 2015, the Kurdish autonomous government announced the invasion of Sinjar on November 13th. In addition to the Peshmerga, members of the YBŞ , HPŞ , YPG and PKK were also involved in the action . The loss of Sinjar was a major strategic setback for ISIS. The two cities of Ar-Raqqa (Syria) and Mosul (Iraq), which are important to them and controlled by them, are connected by the main road along the Jabal Sinjar. After Sinjar was conquered, mass graves with civilian victims of IS were found.

    2015 presidential crisis

    The regional president, Masud Barzani, received an extraordinary extension of his term of office after two terms in office due to the Iraq crisis, which expired in August 2015. The agreement in parliament on the future of the presidency, which had actually been planned by then, did not take place. Barzani and his DPK wanted to continue to govern as long as the threat from IS existed. Barzani's opponents from the PUK and Gorran pushed for a change of power. Due to the poor economic situation caused by the war, the high number of refugees and the late payment of civil servants' wages, several protests against Barzani, some of them violent, took place in October 2015. DPK facilities were devastated in Sulaimaniyya and other cities with a traditional PUK majority. A little later, Barzani dismissed the parliamentary speaker, Yousif Mohammed, and the Gorran ministers from the coalition government.

    Masud Barzani stepped down from office in November 2017.

    Independence referendum 2017

    On June 7, 2017, the regional government announced a referendum on independence from the Iraqi central state.

    The referendum sought was described as illegal in the run-up to Baghdad and criticized by many states. The USA, as an ally of both sides, saw this as complicating the fight against IS and demanded at least a postponement of the referendum until after the successful fight against IS. The neighboring states of Turkey and Iran saw the planned referendum as a threat to their national security and integrity with a view to their own Kurdish minorities. Since areas that were occupied by the Peshmerga in the course of the fight against IS in 2014 were also included in the referendum as part of a new Kurdish state, this also led to increased political resistance within Iraqi society.

    The referendum was held on September 25, 2017 and resulted in a clear vote in favor of independence.

    After the referendum, Baghdad announced a series of political and economic measures against the Kurdish regional government. In mid-October, the Iraqi army and the militia units subordinate to the central government moved into the areas occupied by the Peshmerga after the fight against ISIS. There were isolated fights and deaths. The Autonomous Region of Kurdistan has in fact been pushed back to the territorial status of before 2003.

    The Supreme Federal Court of Iraq, the Iraqi Constitutional Court , declared the referendum unconstitutional on November 20, 2017.


    The Kurdistan region has extensive autonomy rights. No soldier in the Iraqi army is allowed to enter the Kurdish areas without permission. The strength of the armed forces of the Kurdish regional government was already estimated in 2007 at 110,000 men. They are also allowed to operate in the rest of Iraq.


    The President of the Kurdistan Region is elected by direct election and the term of office is four years. From 2005 Masud Barzani was president, whereby he was re-elected in 2009. In August 2013 he was confirmed in office by the regional parliament without direct elections for another two years. When his term of office ended in August 2015, he did not resign, so that since August 2015 he has held the office only de facto and without any democratic legitimation. Barzani finally resigned after the failure of the Kurdish independence efforts on November 1, 2017. In July 2018, the outgoing regional parliament decided to suspend the presidential elections scheduled for September 2018 until a new regional parliament was constituted. The new regional parliament was also given a two-year deadline in which to decide whether to retain or abolish the office of president. In early December 2018, after the parliamentary elections on September 30, 2018, the Kurdistan Democratic Party nominated Nêçîrvan Barzanî, the current Prime Minister and nephew of Masud Barzanî, as a candidate for the office of president.


    The Barzani II cabinet , which was sworn in on June 18, 2014, currently rules . Prime Minister is Nêçîrvan Barzanî , the grandson of the PDK founder Mustafa Barzani and nephew of the former president. The regional government represents the executive branch of the region, which is led by a president as head of government . The three governorates of Dohuk , Erbil and Sulaimaniyya are each administered by a governor .

    houses of Parliament

    Result of the 2018 parliamentary election
  • Kurdistan Democratic Party : 45 seats
  • Patriotic Union of Kurdistan : 21 seats
  • Gorran : 12 seats
  • New generation movement : 8 seats
  • Islamic Community in Kurdistan : 7 seats
  • Islamic Union Kurdistan : 5 seats
  • Sardam Alliance: 1 seat
  • List for freedom: 1 seat
  • Minorities: 11 seats
  • The Parliament of Kurdistan was elected for the first time on May 19, 1992. The elections take place every four years. The last time was elected in 2013. Eleven of the 111 seats are reserved for the region’s minorities. There is a 30% female quota.


    External relations

    The Kurdish regional government is working independently of the central government of Iraq to create alternative access to the sea as well as transport and communication routes. In Kurdistan there are - in addition to the embassies in Baghdad - foreign representations in Erbil. The states concerned include the United States , Italy , the People's Republic of China , Russia , France , the United Kingdom , Japan , the Netherlands , Brazil , Belarus , Turkey , Iran , the Czech Republic and South Korea . Germany opened a consulate general in Erbil on February 18, 2009. There are also representations of the Kurdish regional government abroad, including in Berlin , Vienna and Bern .

    Territorial claims

    The autonomy agreement of March 11, 1970 provided for an area consisting of the provinces of Erbil , Dahuk and as-Sulaimaniyya . This covered an area of ​​approx. 37,000 km². The size of the autonomous region today is around 40,000 km². Another 7,000 km² are in fact under Kurdish control.

    There are major territorial conflicts between the Kurdish regional and Iraqi central governments, which concern the territorial affiliation of both the provinces of Kirkuk and Mosul and various districts in other governorates.

    Parts of the required areas were occupied by the Kurdish regional government after the third Gulf War (see map). The demands of the Kurdish regional government to also incorporate disputed areas into the autonomous region have so far been rejected by the central government. This process was supposed to be clarified by a referendum stipulated in Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution at the end of 2007, but was postponed until further notice by both the Kurdish side and the Iraqi central government. During the Iraq crisis in 2014 , Peshmerga troops occupied Kirkuk , creating further facts.

    In the drafts of the Kurdish regional constitution, the following districts are also declared to be part of the Kurdistan Autonomous Region:

    1. Province Ninawa : Districts Akre , Sinjar and parts of the districts of Tal Afar and al-Ba'ādsch ; and parts of the city of Mosul itself
    2. Erbil Province : Machmur District
    3. Kirkuk Province (within the 1968 provincial borders)
    4. Diyala Province : Chanaqin and Baladruz Districts
    5. Wasit Province : Badra District

    After the independence referendum in September 2017, which was not recognized by Iraq, the Iraqi central government, with the help of the army, took back control of previously Kurdish-controlled areas outside the defined autonomous region.

    Military and security forces

    Kurdish patrol car in Sulaimaniyya

    The backbone of the security forces are the Peshmerga , which were founded decades ago as a militia and guerrilla force. Since 2003, the Baghdad central government has been making efforts to integrate them into the Iraqi army. They take on the task of securing the border in the autonomous region. Their manpower is around 190,000. Your equipment has been modernized from 2003 and increasingly since 2014 with deliveries from EU countries. Mainly Germany, the Czech Republic and Croatia are the main suppliers.

    The region also maintains regional intelligence services with the Asayîş , Zaniyarî and Parastin . The Asayîş has two headquarters, one in Erbil and one in Sulaimaniyya. The Zaniyarî and Parastin are the party's own intelligence services of the PUK and the DPK .


    In the Kurdistan region, there has been an economic boom since the de facto secession in 1991, also due to the prospect of developing larger oil fields , which attracted Western investments and oil companies. The parallel currency, the Swiss dinar , was also successful and inflation-stable from 1991 to 2003. Even with its western orientation, the Kurdistan region was largely politically stable, which was an additional incentive for foreign investors. In addition, there was an influx of Kurds from the diaspora, who returned with Western knowledge, capital and ideas for investment. Therefore, a new middle class has emerged in these years - in marked contrast to the rest of Iraq. The economy of the Kurdistan region is increasingly operating separately from the rest of Iraq.

    In Kurdistan there are wide fertile, water-rich plateaus, these areas were once the "granary of the Middle East". Agriculture is therefore a traditional pillar of Kurdistan's economy. However, it was severely affected by the many wars. She has been slowly recovering since 2003.

    After the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, Kurdistan's economy was able to strengthen increasingly. This can be clearly seen from the region's nominal gross domestic product : While the gross domestic product was ID 2,420 billion in 2004 , it grew to ID 8,818 billion in two years - an economic growth of 364%. From 2007 to 2008, annual GDP growth of 248% was achieved (to ID 24,726 billion). In 2013 the Kurdistan region had an economic growth rate of over 8%.

    Development of the nominal gross domestic product from 2004 to 2008 in billion Iraqi dinars

    According to Masud Barzani, the Kurdistan region is to become a free trade zone based on the Dubai model . At one point more than 200 Turkish companies were active in the region, the volume of trade with Turkey amounted to more than 2 billion US dollars in 2006 and grew to 5 billion US dollars by 2010, including oil contracts and construction contracts. From mid-2007, the dominance of Turkish products - for example in retail - decreased significantly in favor of goods from Syria , Jordan and Europe. This was due to trade barriers with Turkey. Since then, a decrease in construction projects by Turkish companies has also been evident. In 2013, 2,300 foreign and 15,000 domestic (Kurdish) companies were operating in Kurdistan.

    The Kurdistan region - like the rest of Iraq - has been increasingly economically affected by the expansion of the Islamic State since 2014 and the massive drop in oil prices since 2015. 95% of the regional administration's income comes from the sale of petroleum. In addition, transfer payments from the Iraqi central government were blocked due to a conflict between the two governments over the modalities of oil sales. As 70% of employees work in the public sector and no wages were paid in the last four months of 2015, a serious economic crisis ensued. Foreign investors withdrew and many infrastructure projects were stopped, and many young Kurds left the Kurdistan region for Europe (see refugee crisis in Europe from 2015 ).

    Ores & Minerals

    Since the 2000s in particular, the Kurdish regional government has endeavored to develop other economic sectors in addition to the oil and gas industry, in order to reduce dependence on crude oil. These industries also include the development and exploitation of various ore deposits within the Kurdish region. According to the Kurdish Minister for Natural Resources, Ashti Hewrami, the political and legal prerequisites have been created so that natural resources such as iron , copper , chromium , gold , platinum and various other minerals can be mined on a large scale in the near future . Two laws were drawn up and passed, which define the legal framework for the mining of metallic and non-metallic mineral resources. It is envisaged that a private mining industry will develop that will operate under state requirements and regulations.

    mineral oil and natural gas

    Iraq has the world's third largest oil reserves, with an estimated 45 billion barrels of oil in the Kurdistan region , which makes it sixth in the world. The Kirkuk oil field is one of the largest oil fields in the world - it is estimated that around 38 billion barrels of oil were stored in the Kirkuk field in 1930. As drilling results from 2007-2009 show, there are additional oil fields in the region, each with more than 1 billion barrels of oil. The test production rates of up to 40,000 bpd (barrels per day) achieved there are among the highest in the world.

    These oil reserves are also a reason for the long-standing dispute between the Kurdish regional government and the central government in Baghdad. Since 2003, the Kurdish regional government has worked with 24 western oil companies (including DNO ASA , Genel Energy, Heritage Oil, KNOC, MOL, Dana Gas, OMV , Hunt, WesternZagros Resources, Sinopec, Gulf Keystone Petroleum, Vast Exploration, Groundstar Resources, Talisman Energy, Niko Resources) contracts for exploration and exploitation of oil fields concluded.

    At the beginning of May 2009 the discovery of a huge oil deposit was reported. The 710 m thick oil-bearing layer contains between 2.3 and 4.2 billion barrels of oil. The Tawke field is being developed by the Norwegian DNO. Genel Energy (Turkey) and Sinopec (China) operate the Taq-Taq field.

    Kirkuk – Ceyhan Oil Pipeline

    On May 8, 2009, the government in Baghdad issued a permit to export Kurdish oil, and from June 1, 2009, 60,000 barrels of oil flowed daily from the Tawke field via Iraqi and Syrian pipelines to the Ceyhan oil loading port on the Mediterranean Sea in Turkey. At the end of June 2009, exports from the Taq-Taq field began with 40,000 bpd. The sale was carried out by the state-owned Iraqi "State Oil Marketing Organization" (SOMO) in Baghdad. On May 17, 2009, the Austrian OMV and the Hungarian MOL acquired shares in the Khor Mor and Chemchemal gas fields. From 2014/15, 3 billion cubic feet of gas should flow into Europe from these fields every day.

    In September 2009, however, the Kurdish regional government stopped oil exports again because no agreement could be reached with Baghdad on remuneration for exports and neither the regional government nor the oil producers had received any money. After the Iraqi elections in early 2010 and the formation of a government in late 2010, new negotiations to settle this conflict began, with the result that exports began on February 3, 2011 at 10,500 bpd. Just 3 days later, 50,000 bpd should be reached and a further increase to 100,000 bpd should follow.

    At the end of 2013, the regional government of Kurdistan, together with Turkey and against the will of the Iraqi central government, built its own oil pipeline through Turkish territory in order to enable the direct export of oil via the Mediterranean port of Ceyhan to Europe and other countries. In May 2014, oil exports and sales began independently of the Iraqi central government. This was a first step towards the economic independence of the Kurdistan region from Baghdad and at the same time deepened the further economic ties with Turkey.

    On June 11, 2014, the Kurdistan Regional Government took control of the Kirkuk and Bai Hassan oil fields and has since exported 120,000 bpd via the Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline.


    Kurdish workers in the north of the region

    Despite its numerous mountains, Kurdistan has around 3.49 million hectares or around 35% of the land area in fertile soil. Most agricultural products are wheat , rice , sunflowers , cucumbers and fruits such as figs and pomegranates . The share of agriculture in the GDP of the autonomous region of Kurdistan is 17.5%. The Sulaimaniyya and Dahuk regions in particular contribute a large proportion to agriculture.

    As in many countries in this region, Kurdistan has seen a change in the economic structure from agriculture to industry over the past decade. While oil production increased rapidly, employment in agriculture fell significantly, from 45% of the population in 2000 to 35% in 2003 to only 9% in 2009.


    In Erbil and Sulaimaniyya the water supply is for the most part by Karezes ( Qanat produced). This type of irrigation is carried out on nine levels. However, several irrigation projects are currently running in Erbil and Dahuk in order to save water in the future.


    The Delal Bridge in Zaxo dates back to Roman antiquity and is a popular destination

    The tourism in the Kurdistan Region is heavily promoted in recent years. In addition to numerous luxury hotels and various amusement parks , including the largest Ferris wheel in the Middle East in Sulaimaniyya , investors are to be attracted to the region with tax breaks and subsidies.

    Numerous shopping arcades of comparatively gigantic size, such as the Majidi Mall or the City Center , opened in Erbil and Sulaimaniyya from 2010.

    In 2013, $ 950 million was invested in the tourism industry and generated $ 1 billion in revenue. With a visitor number of 2.2 million tourists in 2012 and a target of 7 million by 2025, investments as well as income should increase enormously. In 2014, 75% of the hotels in Kurdistan were already full.


    Electricity demand

    The region is particularly troubled by the massive energy demand. Due to the emerging tourism and the economic boom, the energy demand almost tripled between 2004 and 2012. The energy sector is to be served by private companies by 2016. Due to the economic crisis from the end of 2015, power outages occurred regularly.


    The mobile is used by 90% of the population. Cellular providers are Zain Iraq , Asiacell and Korek Telecom . However, only 7–10% of the population currently have access to the Internet. The government has therefore put in place a plan which provides for at least 50% of the population to have access to the Internet by 2018 or at least to enable another 5% of the population to have Internet access every year.


    The Kurdistan Region in Northern Iraq has two international airports:


    Statue of the poet standing on his head in front of the National Library in Sulaimaniyya

    The foundation stone for building an independent education system was laid after de facto autonomy in the early 1990s. Funding for education has increased steadily since then, reaching around 16% of the regional government's budget in 2013. Employment in education rose at the same rate. Around a quarter of all those in work in Kurdistan are now employed in the education sector. Two ministries are responsible for this. On the one hand there is the Ministry of Education (MOE) , which administers the primary and secondary education . On the other hand, the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research (MHE) is responsible for the tertiary education sector at state universities and equivalent universities .

    The preschool can be attended in the age group between 4 and 5 years. Primary training lasts 6 years and is compulsory for 6 to 11 year olds. The secondary education consists of 2 cycles of 3 years each; higher education takes 2–6 years per cycle.

    The language of instruction is Kurdish . Arabic , although the official language of Iraq , is only taught as a foreign language. Through the accelerated efforts of the Iraqi central and regional government in the field of education, the illiteracy rate is to be reduced considerably from 20-25% from 2011 to 2015. Education accounted for 16% of the total government budget in 2013. Public primary and secondary schools, like state universities, are free of charge.

    In 2013 there were 62 students for every professor. The declared goal of the Ministry of Education is to reduce the ratio to 1 in 30. As a result, the government has earmarked $ 3.4 billion for educational projects by 2020. There are a total of 15 state and 14 private universities in the region.

    The first university, Sulaimaniya University , was founded in Sulaimaniyya in 1968. In 1981 the university was moved to Erbil by the Iraqi regime and renamed Salahaddin University . Sulaimaniyya University was rebuilt in 1992 by the regional government. This also maintains a location in Jamjamāl .

    Two more recent colleges are located in Koya , Koya University , and in Erbil, Hawler Medical University . In 2006 the University of Kurdistan Hewlêr began teaching in Erbil. The only language of instruction is English. The American University of Iraq - Sulaimani, which is taught in English, also opened in Sulaimaniyya .



    Kurdish music has its roots in an epic singing tradition. This differentiates between storytellers (Çîrokbêj) , singers (Stranbêj) and bards ( Dengbêj ) . Kurdish music is characterized by simple melodies with a range of only three or four tones, strophic songs with the same poetry and music at the end of each stanza. There is also dance music (Govend) , which is often played at weddings.

    The tembûr is one of the most widely used musical instruments in Kurdistan. Other traditional musical instruments such as bilûr (flute), duduk (oboe), dahol (drum) and zurna (shawm) are often used. In the Ahl-e-Haqq and Alevi religions, the long-necked Tembûr is often used during ceremonies. The digital revolution also changed the use of traditional musical instruments in Kurdistan. Modern Kurdish pop music after the turn of the millennium now mainly uses electronic instruments, such as amplifiers and keyboards, to imitate the sound and tone of traditional instruments. A few digitized Tembûr can still be found at weddings and celebrations.

    During the reign of Saddam Hussein , critical music texts against the Ba'ath regime were both privately and publicly prohibited. Many musicians who opposed this oppression were punished with death. Nevertheless, some Kurdish musicians, including Erdewan Zaxoyî and Eyaz Zaxoyi, decided to make music for the Peshmerga. They secretly and provisionally produced the pieces of music. The vocals, mostly accompanied by the traditional Tembûr, were recorded on a compact cassette. Since the sale of this type of music was forbidden, a black market for the recorded tapes developed . Some of these musicians left the country because of the persecution by the Ba'ath regime and continued to publish critical pieces of music and motivational chants for the Peshmerga units in countries such as Iran and Syria.


    Most of the Kurdish stories have been and are passed down orally. Most of the written literature consisted of poetry until the beginning of the 20th century . Due to political and social developments, the proportion of prose increased. Kurdish literature was subject to restrictions and bans in its homeland for decades in the 20th century. When the Kurds emigrated to Europe, they developed a literature in exile that was not insignificant for developments in their home countries.

    Well-known Kurdish writers include Pîremêrd , Ibrahim Ahmed and the noble Mastura Ardalan . The Kurdish city of Sulaymaniyya in particular is considered to be the most important center of Kurdish literature.


    Representatives of contemporary painting from the region include a. Sardar Kestay and Baldin Ahmad .


    The most common sport in the Kurdistan Region is soccer . On January 11, 2006 the Kurdish Football Association Kurdistan Football Association with 24 teams from different cities - u. a. Erbil, Sulaimaniyya and Kirkuk - founded. In addition, a Kurdish football selection was set up that is a member of the NF board . In 2008 the team took part in the Viva World Cup and reached fourth place. In the tournaments of 2009 in Padania and 2010 in Gozo , the Kurdish team took second place. In 2012, when the Viva World Cup took place in Kurdistan, the Kurds made it to the finals again, where they met the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus . The game ended 2-1 and Kurdistan became champions of the Viva World Cup for the first time.

    In April 2012, the Spanish football club Real Madrid signed contracts for the construction of four football academies for children and young people in Kurdistan. Each of these schools should offer around 100 places. The schools opened in September 2013.

    In addition to football, basketball is an up-and-coming sport in the region. American citizens and some universities in Kurdistan have promoted basketball intensively since the Iraq war. Women in particular are becoming increasingly involved in this area. The men's team from Duhok SC won the Iraqi championship three times in a row in 2009 and took third place at the FIBA ​​Asia Champions Cup in 2012.

    public holidays

    If a day off falls on a Friday or Saturday, the following working day is declared as a day off.


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    Web links

    Commons : Kurdistan Autonomous Region  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files
    Wikimedia Atlas: Autonomous Region of Kurdistan  - geographical and historical maps

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