Breaking Away From BaghdadJoost R. Hiltermann
The mood in Erbil, Sulaymaniyah, and Dohuk -- the three largest cities in Iraqi Kurdistan -- is newly buoyant these days, and with good reason. Iraq's Kurds, who occupy the semiautonomous region run by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), have much to celebrate. They enjoy relative peace and stability compared with the rest of the country, boast a moderately open society, and, over the past year, have received a whopping vote of confidence in their nascent economy from some of the world's largest oil companies, including ExxonMobil, Chevron, Total, and Gazprom, all of which have signed exploration contracts with the KRG. Not only is Iraqi Kurdistan undergoing an unprecedented building boom, but its people are now articulating a once-unthinkable notion: that the day they will break free from the rest of Iraq is nigh.
As the Kurds press forward, they are growing increasingly estranged from the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki; personal relations between Maliki and the Kurdish