The Kurdish Autonomous Region (Başűrę Kurdistanę in Kurdish) is a political entity established in 1970 following the agreement of an Autonomy Accord between the government of Iraq and leaders of the Iraqi Kurdish community. A Legislative Assembly was established in the city of Arbil with theoretical authority over the Kurdish-populated provinces of Arbil, Dahuk and As Sulaymaniyah.
In practice, however, the assembly was under the control of the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein until the 1991 uprising against his rule following the end of the Gulf War. In the ensuing fighting and refugee crisis, the United States and Britain established a "safe haven" policed with a no-fly zone covering much of the Kurdish territory. The region thus gained de facto independence, being ruled by the two principal Kurdish parties – the Kurdish Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan – outside the control of Baghdad. The region gained its own flag and even its own currency, which was worth considerably more than the Iraqi dinar.
Elections held in June 1992 produced an inconclusive outcome, with the assembly divided almost equally between the two main parties and their allies. This led to tensions which ultimately sparked violence and the collapse of the autonomous government. Heavy fighting broke out on several occasions, in May 1994, September 1996, and November 1997, killing thousands. The region was effectively partitioned between the two parties. Saddam Hussein reasserted some power through assisting the KDP to capture Arbil in 1996, but was generally kept at arms' length by a combination of Kurdish strength and US-UK air patrols.
Kurdistan Regional Government
Since 1996, the Kurdistan Regional Government has been based in Arbil. The KRG has a parliament, called the Iraqi Kurdistan National Assembly, and a cabinet composed of the KDP and its allies (Iraqi Communist Party). Nechervan Idris Barzani has been prime minister of the KRG since 1999. Meanwhile, the provisional capital of the PUK-controlled area is in As Sulaymaniyah further south.
The main Kurdish parties and peshmerga collaborated with the Coalition during the 2003 invasion of Iraq that led to Hussein's overthrow, and came to be represented in the Iraqi governing council. The Law of Administration for the State of Iraq for the Transitional Period recognizes the autonomy of the Kurdistan Regional Government during the interim between "full sovereignty" and the eventual adoption of a permanent constitution.
The Kurdistan Regional Government currently has de facto authority over the provinces of Arbil, Dahuk, and Suleymaniya, as well as parts of Diyala and Ninawa. The KRG also claims Kirkuk (at-Ta'mim) province and larger parts of Diyala and Ninawa.
The future of the autonomous region is uncertain. The Kurds' strong desire to retain their hard-won autonomy means that it is likely that some kind of federal or at least highly devolved political system will be implemented, with the Kurdish Autonomous Region continuing to exist in some form. One particularly difficult issue yet to be resolved is the future boundaries of the region. Many Kurds wish it to be expanded to include the largely Kurdish cities of Mosul and Kirkuk, but this is complicated by the large Assyrian, Turkmen and Arab populations of both cities and the opposition of Turkey, which is concerned about the region's potential to break away from Iraq (with possible consequences for its own Kurdish minority).
The Democratic Patriotic Alliance of Kurdistan won a commanding majority in the Kurdistan National Assembly election on 30 January 2005, as well as 75 seats in the federal National Assembly of the Iraqi Transitional Government.