The modern history of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq dates back to 1970, when the March 11th agreement was signed between the Kurdish opposition and the Iraqi government. However, throughout the Iran-Iraq war, during the 1980s and the Anfal genocide campaign, the Iraqi army devastated the population and nature of Kurdistan.
Following the 1991 uprising of the Kurdish people against Saddam Hussein, the Kurds were forced to flee the country to become refugees in bordering regions of Iran and Turkey. After the creation of the northern no-fly zone following the First Gulf War in 1991 to facilitate the return of Kurdish refugees, Kurdistan has been de facto independent.
The 2003 invasion of Iraq by joint coalition and Kurdish forces and the subsequent political changes in post-Saddam Iraq led to the ratification of the new Iraqi constitution in 2005. The new Iraqi constitution stipulates that Iraqi Kurdistan is a federal entity recognized by Iraq and the United Nations.
Kurdistan is a parliamentary democracy with a national assembly that consists of 111 seats. The current president is Masoud Barzani who was elected during the Iraqi Kurdistan 2005 elections that are held every four years.
The three governorates of Duhok, Erbil and Sulaimani accumulate a territory of around 40,000 square kilometers and a population of roughly 4.6 million.
Key events in the contemporary history of the Kurdistan Region since the early 20th century:
1918: Sheikh Mahmoud Barzinji becomes governor of Sulaimani under British rule. He and other Kurdish leaders who want Kurdistan to be ruled independently of Baghdad rebel against the British. He is defeated a year later.
1923: The Treaty of Lausanne between Turkey and the allied powers invalidates the Treaty of Sevres, which had provided for the creation of a Kurdish state.
1925: After sending a fact-finding committee to Mosul province, the League of Nations decides that it will be part of Iraq, on condition that the UK holds the mandate for Iraq for another 25 years to assure the autonomy of the Kurdish population. The following year Turkey and Britain signed a treaty in line with the League of Nation’s decision.
1970: The Kurdistan Democratic Party, lead by Mustafa Barzani, reaches an agreement with Baghdad on autonomy for Kurdistan and political representation in the Baghdad government. By 1974, key parts of the agreement are not fulfilled, leading to disputes.
1971-1980: The Iraqi government expels more than 200,000 Shiite, Fayli Kurds from Iraq.
1975: The Iraqi government signs the Algiers Agreement with Iran, in which they settle land disputes in exchange for Iran ending its support of the Kurdistan Democratic Party and other concessions.
1983: The Iraqi government disappears 8,000 boys and men from the Barzani clan. In 2005, 500 of them are found in mass graves near Iraq’s border with Saudi Arabia, hundreds of kilometers from the Kurdistan Region.
1987-1989: The Iraqi government carries out the genocidal Anfal campaign against Kurdistan’s civilians, of mass summary executions and disappearances, widespread use of chemical weapons, destruction of some 2,000 villages and of the rural economy and infrastructure. An estimated 180,000 are killed in the campaign.
On 16th and 17th of March, 1988, Iraqi government fighter planes drop chemical weapons on the town of Halabja. Between 4,000 and 5,000 people, almost all civilians, are killed.
1991: The people in Kurdistan rise up against the Iraqi government days after the Gulf War ceasefire. Within weeks the Iraqi military and helicopters suppress the uprising. Tens of thousands of people flee to the mountains, causing a humanitarian crisis. The US, Britain and France declare a no-fly zone at the 36th parallel and refugees return. Months later, Saddam Hussein withdraws the Iraqi Army and his administration, and imposes an internal blockade on Kurdistan.
1992: The Iraqi Kurdistan Front, an alliance of political parties, holds parliamentary and presidential elections and establishes the Kurdistan Regional Government.
1994: Power-sharing arrangements between the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) fall apart, leading to civil war and two separate administrations, in Erbil and Sulaimani respectively.
1998: The PUK and KDP sign the Washington Agreement, ending the civil war.
2003: The Peshmerga, Kurdistan’s official armed forces, fight alongside the coalition to liberate Iraq from Saddam Hussein’s rule.
2006: At the start of the year, the PUK and KDP agree to unify the two administrations. On 7th May, Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani announces a new unified cabinet.