A masked Turkish Kurdish man jumps over a bonfire during a rally celebrating Newroz, which marks the arrival of spring and the new year, in Istanbul March 22, 2015. Jailed Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan said on Saturday his militant group's three-decade insurgency against the Turkish state had become "unsustainable" but stopped short of declaring an immediate end to its armed struggle.   
Murad Sezer / Reuters

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

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  • JOOST R. HILTERMANN is Deputy Program Director for the Middle East and North Africa at the International Crisis Group and Research Affiliate at the MIT Center for International Studies.
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