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Kurdistan Region • אזור כורדיסטן • هه‌رێمی کوردستان‎ • اقليم كردستان • Herêmî Kurdistan

Iraq's constitution allocates Hawler, Slemani, and Duhok governorates for the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). However, the KRG also administrates parts of Nineveh, Diyala, and Kirkuk governorates.

The lingua franca and official language is Kurdish, and Indo-European language in the Iranian linguistic family -- it is thus related to Persian, Belujian, Pashto, Tajik, and Indo-Aryan languages, and its roots are shared with Western European Indo-European languages such as English, French and German. The majority religion is Islam, but there are substantial Christian, Yezidi and Kakayee (Kakai) religions. Also, a recent population of Mandaeans from southern and central Iraq has recently settled in Kurdistan.

Iraqi constitution's Article 140 delineates the KRG's borders in Iraq as the governorates of Hawler, Duhok, and Suleimani. Halabja is the fourth and tiniest governorate, carved from part of Slemani Governorate. Borders with Iran and Turkey are well-established, but all borders against federal Iraqi regions are in dispute. There are additional territories which are under KRG control. The Iraqi government withdrew from parts of Kirkuk, Diyala, and Nineveh governorates in the 1990s, leaving these portions to the KRG. Then in 2014, the KRG accrued further territory after Iraqi retreats from ISIS advances: Garmiyan Administration (the Kurdish control of federal Iraq's Kirkuk Governorate); parts of Nineveh Governorate (Shekhan, Sinjar, Talla'far, Talkef and Algush districts); parts of Salahaddin Governorate (Tuzkhurmatu district); and parts of Diyala Governorate (Khaneqeen distrct and Mandalay sub-district).

The jurisdictions of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), as with the rest of Iraq, follow an Ottoman template and terminology.

Below the national level is the governorate (meaning province or state), which as a پارێزگا parezga in Kurdish and a محافظة mohafitha in Arabic. Beneath the پارێزگا parezgaمحافظة mohafitha (governorate) level is the قەزاقضاء‎ qaza, meaning district. Each district has a navenda qezayê (district center), which is usually eponymous, and usually at least one ناحيەناحية‎ nahia, meaning subdistrict. Additionally, there are several sizes of municipalities: a شار shar is a big city; a قەزا is a town; and on the smallest scale, a گوند gund is a village.

The Tigris, Khabur, Greater Zab, Little Zab, and Sirwan rivers all flow through the KRG.


Ottoman rule

Kurdistan belongs more in name than in fact to the Turkish kingdom. The inhabitants of the mountain entrenched behind those walls with which nature has provided them, hold fast to their peculiar habits and customs, laws and traditions. Thus they adhere to their own life of freedom, paying the Sultan a small yearly tribute, and that only of their own accord. They form a kind of union of independent tribes, each governed by its own chief. These tribes again divide themselves into families, and live generally in sanguinary skirmishes and feuds with each other. Benjamin II (1859), p 96

World War I

When I mention that one section of a tribe, the Kwakuruk, which in 1914 numbered over 150 families, now musters only seven, you can see that war, pestilence, and famine have taken a very severe toll. Ninety per cent destruction is a heavy price to pay in some one else's quarrel. Mason 1919, p 329-330

When war broke out between the Russians and the Turks, the demarcation of the Turco-Persian country had just been completed. The Russians were some time getting going, and the first we heard of them in Mesopotamia was when they began on 10 January 1916 to advance in the Caucasus. On February 16 they captured Erzerum, and on April 19 Trebizond. Simultaneously Russian forces moved forward in the Kurdish districts to the south, one force based on Hamadan operating through Kirmanshah towards Khanikin, while another based on Lake Urmia moved on Rawanduz. On 23 August 1916 the Russian general, Chernozubov, defeated the 4th Turkish division at Lalgan on the Persian side of the frontier, and drove the Turks back on Rawanduz. Two Turkish regiments were captured, and about two-thirds of the town population fled. The Armenian troops with the Russians massacred about five thousand Kurds, men, women, and children, by driving them over the cliffs of the Rawanduz gorge at the point of the bay not. Even the Armenian can be a bit of a tiger when he has a defenceless prey. Mason 1919, p 331

Russia now overran the country. Some of the tribes were glad to be freed from Turkish misrule; others were not. Unfortunately the Russian is no administrator in countries such as these. He had no political officers with his troops and no method of liaison with the inhabitants. Friction followed licence and the Kurds turned on the Russians. Individual tribes harried and harassed the Russian communications and cut up small parties. They could not operate together, and suffered in various degrees in consequence. The Russia later on evacuated the district, for their own safety they took the precaution of wiping out almost every village on their line of retreat. Not one village remains intact between Rawanduz and the Garaushinke pass. Mason 1919, p 331

The Kurds again came under Turkish control, and for the moment were glad of the change. But by this time the Turkish commissariat was so dependent on the country that the population died of starvation by hundreds. Epidemics of typhus and influenza also took heavy toll of lives. The armistice was signed between ourselves and the Turks on October 31 last year. One of the conditions imposed on the Turkish commander was that he should evacuate his troops from this area. He was allowed for the time being to leave his civil administrators, where they were until we took over. Mason 1919, p 331

There is only one other point I will touch upon. When we were in the country early this year we were treated with much kindness. The Kurds wanted help and were prepared to trust us. A chief told Noel that no refugees had preceded the British advance, whereas hordes of starving inhabitants fled before both Russians and Turks. Mason 1919, p 342

On arrival in England I heard that the Kurds of the Sulaimaniya district had risen against our occupation, and had made prisoners the dozen British officers stationed among them. The rising was headed by Shaikh Mahmud, who, at the request of the local tribes, and been made paramount chief by the British. An expedition was sent up, and the prisoners recovered; Shaikh Mahmud was severely wounded from the air. There seems to be no doubt that the trouble arose partly at the instigation of Turkish agents and partly from swollen headedness on the part of Sheikh Mahmud. The trouble does not seem to have spread to the Rawanduz district, and the country seems to have settled down again. The process of taming brigands by League of Nations methods is not an easy one, and our political officers in Kurdistan have in front of them a very difficult task. Mason 1919, p 342

Chenara is the headquarters of Ahmad Agha, chief of the once all-powerful Baradost Kurds, and we were his guests during this time. His tribe is now reduced from over 1000 families to 157; 52 villages out of 81 which were his before the war have been destroyed by Russians or Turks or deserted though sickness or starvation. The old chief himself had been a Russian prisoner. Mason 1919, p 339

We were very short of food. Meatless days were the rule, and our meals more often consisted of chapatis made from ground acorns from the wild scrub oak, and occasionally some sour curds and wild honey. The trip cost me four holes in my Sam Browne belt. Mason 1919, p 339; edited for brevity

Rawanduz is already connected by telegraph to Erbil. This line does not follow the military road through the gorge, but crosses the Bejan Pass south of Rawanduz, and joins the road at Kani-Batman, the first stage on the road, beyond the gorge. Erbil is of course connected to Mosul and Baghdad. Another line from Erbil extends to Rania and on to Kaladiza, but ends abruptly there and does not cross the frontier. Neri and Rawanduz were connected by telegraph, but last winter the line was down in several places and sections had been removed. By now it is probably in working order again. Another line, also broken last winter, led from Rawanduz over the Garaushinke Pass to Ushnu. This has also probably been repaired by now and the local chiefs made responsible for its safety. Mason 1919, p 339-341

Oil discovery

I think there is coal in more than one place, and there may be oil. Mason 1919, p 341

Modern era




Kurdistan Region

The parliament of the Kurdistan Autonomous Region was established in Arbil in 1970 via negotiations between the Iraqi government and the Kurdistan Democratic Party led by Mustafa Barzani. However, Kurdistan remained under Saddam Hussein's hegemony until the Kurdish uprising at the end of the 1991 Gulf War.

Kurdish Civil War


The legislature ceased to function effectively when fighting broke out between the two main Kurdish factions, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). Arbil was captured by the KDP in 1996 with the assistance of the Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein. The PUK then established an alternative Kurdish government in Sulaimaniyah. On March 1996 PUK asked for Iran's help to fight KDP. Considering this as a foreign attack of Iraq's soil, KDP asked the central Iraqi government for help. While the forces of Saddam Hussein ransacked Arbil, many NGO's and International Organizations fled. These same organizations were able, with the assistance of the United States and other countries, to accept many Kurds as refugees. Many bound to the US were first taken to Guam. The Kurdish Parliament in Arbil reconvened after a peace agreement was signed between the Kurdish parties in 1997, but had no real power. The Kurdish government in Arbil had control only in the western and northern parts of the autonomous region.

A suicide attack during a Ramadan celebration killed 109 people.

Federal Constitution

The new Iraqi constitution of 2005, explicitly recognizes the Kurdistan Regional Government, and the two parallel administrations, in January 2006, signed an agreement to unify the administration of the entire Kurdish region under a new multi-party government in Arbil. In May 2006 the unitary government of the Kurdistan region was formally presented.

A suicide bomber killed more than 60 people at the KDP office.

The three northern provinces, Erbil, Dohuk and Sulaimaniya, have blossomed into a quasi-independent state in the 16 years since the United States placed a protective umbrella, or no-flight zone, over the region to stop a genocidal anti-Kurdish campaign waged by Saddam Hussein. New York Times, 2007

To our knowledge, no Americans or citizens of other nations have been harmed by hostile actions in the Kurdistan region [of Iraq] since the beginning of the war in 2003. -- US Congress, 2008 KRG

"People here don't look at us as occupiers. They understand why we are here. Kurdistan is what we perceived all of Iraq would be like after the fall of Saddam Hussein." -- Major Neil Kettering of the US Army KRG

Suicide Attack

A suicide bomber exploded himself Qaladaze in Iraqi Kurdistan, injuring two members of the security forces. Hakim Qadir Hamajan, director of Sulaimani’s Security Forces, said in a press conference that the attacker tried to infiltrate into headquarters of an armed division, in which peshmerga troops were waiting to get their salaries, in order to cause a larger damage. “While the suspect was surrounded by the members of Asaish [Security Forces] and asked to surrender, he blew himself up,” said Hamajan, in a press conference held after the incidence in Sulaimani. He said the bomber was Kurdish and a member of Ansar al-Islam (a branch of القاعدة al-Qaeda). Some local media reported the bomber to have come from Iran.

Peshmerga in Kirkuk

In late February, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) dispatched thousands of peshmarga troops to Kirkuk and some other disputed areas in the north of Iraq, with the stated aim of trying to ward off any potential threats caused by a scheduled mass Arab protest across Kirkuk province and other areas. ... “The Kurds are blocking Iraqi forces from entering Kurdistan without their permission, while Kurdish forces can leave their jurisdiction [at will] and come to Kirkuk,” Jamal Shan, head of the Iraqi National Turcoman Party, told the ICG. “We are concerned about the American policy, which is always right behind the Kurds. We are all aware of this American-Kurdish alliance.”

Fortunately, troops were withdrawn by early March.

Protests Erupt

Protests first broke out in Sulaimani on February 17, turning violent when protesters threw stones at the local headquarters of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). Guards at the building opened fire on the crowd in panic, killing one teenage boy and injuring nearly 50 others. This response came under severe criticism and provoked bigger protests in the following days.

Demonstrators called for an improvement in services such as electricity, but there were also anti-government slogans demanding reform from the authorities, with some calling on the government to step down. While the demonstrations here are in part inspired by those in Egypt and the broader Middle East, people here have generally not been as extreme as those in the Middle East, where citizens called for entire regime changes.

The demonstrations not only mirror those in Egypt and Tunisia in their objectives, but also in their composition -- mostly educated youth and a noticeably large number of women; organization -- through text messaging and social networking sites; and the symbols they use.

In a move which appeared to be a reaction to events in Sulaimani, a number of KDP supporters, some of them armed, on Thursday [2011 02 17] set two Gorran offices in Erbil on fire. The KDP denied any involvement in the incident.

Meanwhile, anti-Kurdistan government demonstrations have also been occurring in Europe. In London, for instance, about a hundred people demonstrated in front of the Kurdistan Regional Government’s office, and some stormed the building. The handful of demonstrators reportedly took control of the office for an hour, but later were expelled by the British police. “Freedom cannot be silenced,” read one banner held by Kurdish expatriate demonstrators in London. “Seven or eight men and women started knocking on our office door,” said Bayan Sami Abdul-Rahman, KRG’s representative to the United Kingdom. “They were very uncivilized and started swearing at us.”

Rezhwan Ali Killed

14 year old protester Rezhwan Ali is fatally shot by security forces when demonstrators try to storm the headquarters of the ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). Since then, "We are all Rezhwan" becomes the rallying cry for protesters, similar to Mohamed Bouazizi in Tunisia.

Withdrawal Fears Bubble

Amid the US withdrawal, fears bubble about Baghdad-Hawler tensions, particularly regarding Kirkuk. A pessimistic report Iraq and the Kurds: Confronting Withdrawal Fears is released by the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG). The report also mentions a series of security mechanisms – joint checkpoints and patrols – implemented with US help that have functioned well to build confidence. However, lack of a concrete deal may lead to instability.;

Protests Continue

Protests in Kurdistan erupt amid the Arab Spring, with reports of violence.

There a was massive number of forces on the streets today. They hit the protesters, used tazor guns, tear gas and arrested a large number of people, among them adolescences aged 14. Lots of journalists were beaten and arrested too! He and others were not able to take out their cameras to take footage of the clashes. There are some people unaccounted for! Shenah Abdullah, Kurdish Aspect, 2010 04 02

At least ten people have been killed in the protests, including two members of the security forces. Over three hundred more have been injured. Rudaw

At least nine people have died in the demonstrations in Iraqi Kurdistan, including two members of the "peshmerga", the two ruling parties' former guerrilla armies which are now the region's official security forces. Reuters

"Because of social injustice, the waste of the region's resources and the lack of law enforcement, we have decided to no longer accept living under a system of governance which is unjust and undemocratic," the protesters said in a statement ... issued by the Interim Council of Liberation Square, a body organizing and representing the Sulaimaniya protesters, called on the Kurdish president, prime minister and cabinet to resign and demanded parliament be dissolved. Reuters

“What is happening now in Kurdistan is a radical change in the Kurdish political landscape,” said Bachtyar Ali, whose 1992 poetry collection “Sin and the Carnival” and magical realist novels marked a Kurdish cultural renaissance that flowered after the region broke free of Saddam's grip in 1991. “We are abandoning the classic form of 20th century governance which indoctrinated us with the notions that ideologies, parties and the president were all sacred,” he told Reuters. “We will certainly never return to pre-February 17th Kurdistan,” he added, referring to the first day of protests. Tehran Times 2011 04

Spanish Investments

An economic conference began on Monday in Arbil with the participation of several companies from Spain, Iraq and Kurdistan to boost economic relations between them. Around 50 Spanish companies working in roads, energy, environment, infrastructure, agriculture and construction take part in the three-day conference, in addition to more than 120 businessmen and representatives of companies in Kurdistan region and Iraq. "Spain's trade volume in 2010 reached 77.7 billion euro, including one million euro with Iraq," director of Spanish Institute for Foreign Trade ICEX told Aswat al-Iraq news agency.

"The trade volume with Iraq is not enough compared with previous years despite it went up by 50%," he explained. Mena FN

Anniversary of Anfal

A melancholy day, particularly amidst the violence erupting in Kurdistan at the hands of the Kurds themselves,

Many may argue there are big differences between Saddam and the Kurdish warlords. There is no doubt they cannot be compared but just being better than Saddam is not acceptable. They must be very different and never resort to hurting any Kurdish citizen because they disagree.

Kuro Currency Concept

A graphic designer in Hawler puts together concept art of what a Kurdish currency could be.

Ismail Abdulla Attacked

Since March, Ismail Abdulla had been at a podium each day in the city center, trying to rally anti-government protesters. He was abducted on 27 May by eight men wearing peshmerga uniforms and balaclavas, taken to a remote spot and the Sydney Morning Herald provides a dramatic account of the events:
For two months before the attack, Abdulla took to a podium each day in Sulaymanieh's public square to rally protesters against government corruption.

The masked man screamed insults as he slashed a knife at Ismail Abdulla's face. His words were almost as sharp as the blade. ''You son of a dog,'' the attacker yelled. Others joined in, threatening to rape Abdulla's mother - an unthinkable horror in this part of the world. Then they beat him with their rifle butts, breaking his nose in a burst of blood. SMH, 2011 06 18

US Consulate in Hawler

2011 07 10

The U.S. State Department, led by Ambassador James Jeffrey and Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides, celebrates the opening of the US Consulate General in Hawler at a ceremony attended by Iraqi Kurdistan Region President Masoud Barzani and Iraqi First Lady Hero Talabani. Ambassador Jeffrey said, "It is our fondest wish that a strong and vibrant Kurdistan Region within a democratic and federal Iraq arise from the tragic history of this region. ... Our goal is to build an Iraq for all its citizens...Arabs and Kurds, Sunni and Shia, Christian and Muslim, Yezidi and Shebak, one that respects all its citizens and one which is governed by the rule of law." The office will cover the three provinces of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region; Erbil, Sulymaniyah and Dohuk, and succeeds the U.S Regional Construction Team, which had operated in the Iraqi Kurdistan Regions since 2007. Fox News, 2011 07


Very helpful albeit incompletely translated and sometimes difficult or unclear to navigate.

Tripp, Charles. A History of Iraq: New Edition.

Some good information on regions.

Evidence of KRG governance in Garmiyan as early as 2011.

Richard Wood correspondence

Good travel guide.

Index of all Iraqi governorates, districts and subdistricts.

Interesting 2005 article on independence.

Official website for "General Board for Kurdistani Areas Outside the Region" is a great resource.

Page about KAGB Sinjar.

Mason 1919
Mason, Kenneth. 1919. Central Kurdistan, The Geographical Journal, Vol LIV No 6.

Benjamin II, 1859

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