Iraqi-Kurdistan. Does the Kurdistan Regional Government have a Foreign Policy?

Term Paper, 2014

16 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Structure of the Kurdistan Regional Government

3. Development of Iraq and the Kurdistan Region since 1992

4. Role of Identity and Sovereignty
4.1 Identity
4.2 Sovereignty

5. International Relations and Foreign Policy

5.1 The Kurdistan Regional Government and Turkey

5.2 The Kurdistan Regional Government and the USA

6. Conclusion

7. Bibliography

1. Introduction

After the Iraq War in 2003 the Kurds in Iraq became more and more important for the region, and there has been a shift of their international recognition. Kurds are now, not only noticed as the victims of their hard history of oppression and misery by their occupiers, but are also noticed, as actors on their own, since the establishment of the Kurdistan Regional Government. The Question whether the KRG has a Foreign Policy or not has come up when the US diplomat Ricciardone neglected that there was a US Foreign Policy towards the Kurds. But after 2003 there has been a strong development in the KRG and its relations to other states.

In order to answer the question about Foreign Policy, first it should be looked at how the term is generally understood: “Foreign policy [...]can be characterized as the sum of official external relations conducted by an independent actor (usually a state) in international relations” (Krieger 2001 ).

When transferring this definition to the KRG, first one has to be aware, that the KRG is not legally a state on its own, but is a autonomous, federated state within the Iraqi state. The first Chapter of this work will therefore look at the structural conditions of the Kurdistan Region. Afterwards in order to understand how the KRG was established, it will be looked at the historical development of the KRG from 1992 onwards, and especially after the Iraq War in 2003.

In the following chapters it will be concentrated on whether the KRG can , besides the structural and historical facts, de facto be understood as an independent actor and how it is recognised as such. Therefore it will be looked in dependence of Hinnebusch, at the role of Identity in the Politics of the Middle East and to what extend this shapes the development in the KRG. On the other hand it will be closer looked at the idea of Sovereignty in International Relations, considering that the general understanding of the term is difficult to use in the Middle East, and specifically in the Kurdistan Region. In a last step it will be looked at the external relations of the KRG, examining its relations to the US Government and Turkey, which both play a major role in the development of the region.

After passing through the internal and external conditions of the Kurdistan Regional Government, it will be concluded, that the Kurdistan Region is internationally gaining recognition as an own player, which even though remaining dependent on its neighbours and the Iraqi Central Government, is nevertheless strengthening its autonomy and its international relations with the use of a foreign policy. The KRG is acting in a lot of areas independently and is, shaped by an own Kurdish identity, within its territories recognised as self-existing.

2. Structure of the Kurdistan Regional Government

The Kurdistan Region is a federated region in Iraq. It is considered as an autonomous region since 1992, which means they have the right of self-rule within the Iraqi Republic. Kerim Yildiz defines autonomous as follows:

Autonomous regions are the regions of a state that are usually in possession of cultural and/or ethnic distinctiveness, and that have been granted separate powers of internal administration without any detachment from the state of which the region is a part (Yildiz 2012:118-119).

Two years after the Iraq War (2003) a new Iraqi constitution has been ratified and Kurdistan recognised a federal entity. The Kurdistan Region consists with the inclusion of Halabja in March 2014 of four governorates, namely Erbil, Slemani and Duhok, while Erbil is the capital of South Kurdistan. In addition the Republic of Iraq, with its capital in Baghdad, consists of 18 governorates including the Kurdistan Regional Government which is legally approved to have an own government within Iraq. With a population of 5.2 million and an area of 40000 square kilometres the Kurdistan region is larger than the Netherlands (Kurdistan Regional Government 2014).

The main institutions of the Kurdistan Region are the Kurdistan Regional Government, the Kurdistan Region Presidency, and the Kurdistan Parliament, whereas these institutions have executive and legislative authority, which is settled within the Iraqi constitution. The 'Peshmerga' are the Kurdistan Regions armed forces, in comparison, the republic of Iraq has their own armed forces, the Iraqi Army. The Executive Power in the Kurdistan Region is exercised by the Kurdistan Regional Government, which implement the Kurdistan Region's laws. The Legislative Power is exercised then by the democratically elected Kurdistan Parliament, which was called 'The Kurdistan Regional Assembly' and today is called 'The Kurdistan Parliament'. The President of the Kurdistan Region has the highest executive authority. He represents the people of Kurdistan at the national and international level,oversees relations and coordination between the Region and the Iraqi federal authorities (Kurdistan Regional Government 2014).

The parliament, as well as the president is elected every 4 calendar years during, as internationally valued, a democratic, free and fair election process. There is a 'draft Kurdistan Constitution' with several articles and resolutions, but it is under review since it does not fulfil the Kurdistan Regions demands (Kurdistan Regional Government 2014). The Kurdistan Region's official languages are Kurdish and Arabic, they have an own flag and an own national anthem- which is considerable since the Republic of Iraq have their own as well.

The current president of Iraqi Kurdistan is Massoud Barzani. He was for the first time elected in 2005 and then re-elected in 2009. In 2013 the Kurdistan Parliament voted to extend the term of their president by two years (Jambaz 2013). The main parties which were elected are the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).1

3. Development of Iraq and the Kurdistan Region since 1992

The Autonomy of the Kurds in North Iraq has been established in 1992, after in April 1991 in times of the Gulf War, a “Safe Haven” had been inducted over the region by the UN Security Council in order to safe the Iraqi people and especially the Kurdish areas from the Iraqi Government (Yildiz 2012: 33). This gave the Kurds the chance to restructure the North of Iraq by building up a self-governing region. In 1992 a parliament, 'The Kurdistan Regional Assembly' had been elected during a democratic and fair election-process, and the Kurdistan Region emerged with its own government, laws and security guides.

The Invasion of Iraq in 2003 gave the Kurds chances of more sovereignty and self- government. After the fall of the Baath Regime the Kurds remained part of Iraq and decided to “adopt and abide by all national laws except for-those that violated human and universal rights”(Fact Sheet: About the Kurdistan Regional Government, n.d.). The Kurds could decide whether to stay autonomous within a Iraqi State or to declare independence. The Kurdish history had shown efforts of Kurds towards independence, but everytime a state was close to reach, unwilling states had shattered its realization. As the past decades proved, there were economical and despotic reasons for states to scotch the Kurds and their claims. The Kurds of Iraq, even though they were able to reach a grade of autonomy -in contrast to the Kurds living in Turkey, Iran or Syria in the beginning of the 2000s, were aware that states such as Turkey, Syria, Iran and also the USA would not tolerate a partition from Iraq. Turkey, just as Iran and Syria would fear that an independent Kurdish state would trigger struggles of Kurds within their states. The USA would fear that the Shiites in Iraq would claim for more dominance in Iraq, and that Iraq could be alike Iran (Yildiz 2012:118) and on the other hand, that if the Kurds would rule over Kirkuk and Mosul2, which are regions with vast reserves of oil, the Shiites had no more financial earnings, which would cause more instability (Yildiz 2012:118).

Therefore the Kurds decided to play an active role in the rebuilding of Iraq after the collapse of the Baath regime, into a democratic federal state, wherein their rights and freedoms should be constitutionally guaranteed (Fact Sheet: About the Kurdistan Regional Government, n.d.) . At the same time they demanded for a Regional Government and for sovereignty over their territories.

The Kurds indeed played a very important role in rebuilding and democratizing Iraq after 2003, which appears in the strengthening relation between the KRG and the US Government. Marianna Charountaki is one noteworthy author who makes aware of the huge developments in South Kurdistan and the role of the U.S.A. in this process, whereas this relation will be examined later on. According to her the KRG plays a key role in keeping Iraq together and ensuring the stability of the region (Charountaki 2011: 234).

Nevertheless it would be overtaken to say that the Democracy in the KRG is exemplarycritique comes from several sides concerning patriarchal structures in Kurdistan or corruption, and the rivalries of the political parties of KDP and PUK in the 1980s. But the KRG is on a constant improvement on these issues, as also stated on their official web-page (Kurdistan Regional Government 2014). It appears that compared to neighbouring states, issues are being publicly communicated, instead of being obscured in the Kurdistan Region.

The Kurdish efforts, and their cooperation with the US Government did not come across a willing Iraqi government. Rather conflicts between the Iraq Central Government and the KRG appeared in terms of questions of sovereignty or authority over certain areas such as the Peshmerga. But especially over financial issues (e.g. the national budget) and natural resources, such as oil, the two sides remain discordant. The KRG is financially dependent on the Iraqi Central Government. It is granted by the Iraqi Constitution 17 percent of the national budget. The KRG calls this amount insufficient, stating the amount is based on incorrect population percentages (Natali 2011:105-106).

While Iraq has ever-since the US Invasion remained unstable and insecure the Kurdistan Region has gained stability. Moreover the KRG, particularly president Massoud Barzani has in the past few years networked with other countries massively, remarkably in terms of economy and trade. This will be examined later on as well. The Iraqi Government criticises the KRG for negotiations with foreign countries without the permission of Iraq stating they would hold against the constitutional laws (Maliki warns Kurdistan 2014).

Since the 2000s not only the economy and infrastructure has grown but also social developments appeared. The population of South-Kurdistan has lived under their own rules and representers and therefore the awareness of a Kurdish identity consolidated. Even though a Kurdish Identity in principle exists in every certain state the Kurds live in, it is a difference obviously to live out ones identity unobstructed. Mahir A. Aziz analysed in his book “The Kurds of Iraq” the identity of Kurds in Iraqi Kurdistan within a new generation of a Kurdish Youth. With the growth of new generations and an awareness of a Kurdish identity separately from a Iraqi or Arab one, the need for independence is also growing in Iraqi-Kurdistan (Aziz 2011). As will be shown in the following, Aziz makes aware that people of Iraqi-Kurdistan do not feel like living in Iraq anymore. This awareness of being Kurdish shapes not only the inner politics of the region but also its relation with the outside.

4. Role of Identity and Sovereignty internal and external

4.1. Identity

In the Middle East, various identities and cultures live within common borders and governments. Identity has many facets in the Middle East, and many authors have analysed its importance and impact on the politics of the region. Raymond Hinnebusch examined in his “The Politics of Identity in Middle East” this concept. Hinnebusch explains: “Identity is ultimately rooted in shared history, faith,and language, facilitated by 'social communication' and aroused by conflict with the 'other' over land or resources” (2013:165). He continues: “At the level of agency, it is the most powerful force for mobilizing grievances in challenges to dominant structures (…)“(2013:165-166). Hinnebusch tries to explain conflicts in the Middle East with issues of identity. Since borders in the Middle East had been drown more or less arbitrary by foreign players, identities and territory became according to Hinnebusch incongruent. This incongruence originates war between states as well as civil wars, as it is the case between Palestinians and Israel or the Kurds and their occupying powers ( Hinnebusch 2013:166). Stability of states is according to Hinnebusch dependent on the compatibility of identity , territory and economical interdependence (2013:148).


1 The Kurdish parties of PUK and KDP cooperated after 2006 by announcing a Unification Agreement. In the 1980s several conflicts between them have taken place in the North of Iraq and have led to seperate kurdish administrations.

2 The Issue of Kirkuk and Mosul had in the past caused several conflicts between the Kurdistan Region and the Iraqi Central Government since both sides claim to rule over the regions.

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Iraqi-Kurdistan. Does the Kurdistan Regional Government have a Foreign Policy?
University of Hamburg
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Middle East, Naher Osten, Außenpolitik, Internationale Beziehungen, Irak, Türkei, Amerika, USA, Staatswissenschaft, Politische Theorie, Kurdistan, International Relations, Foreign Policy
Quote paper
Hêvi Sari (Author), 2014, Iraqi-Kurdistan. Does the Kurdistan Regional Government have a Foreign Policy?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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