After the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, the Americans set up a provisional Iraqi administration. The no-fly zone ceased to exist, but Kurdish regional autonomy remained.
In 2005, a new Iraqi constitution was adopted and elections to a parliament were held. Elections to the regional parliament and to the provincial councils were also held in Kurdistan. Massoud Barzani was elected president of the Kurdish region. Jalal Talabani had already become Iraqi president. In 2006, the KDP and the PUK formed a joint regional government.
In 2004, the PKK had suspended its ceasefire with the Turkish state. From bases in the Kandil Mountains between Iraq and Iran, PKK guerrillas re-entered Turkey. The Turks asked the United States to strike at PKK bases, but the Americans did not want to risk the relative calm in northern Iraq or its relations with Iraqi Kurdish leaders. Nor did Iraq’s Kurdish leaders heed Turkey’s request to oust the PKK, but at the same time they did not want the conflict with Turkey to escalate. In 2006, the PKK increased its attacks on Turkish troops along the border. The PKK was also suspected of being behind bombings in Turkish cities.
Following new bloody PKK attacks in 2007, the Turkish government could no longer withstand the demands of domestic military intervention against the PKK bases in Iraq. Barzani protested, and the United States advised against it, as did the government in Baghdad. Still, Turkey launched airstrikes against PKK targets in Iraq, but it did not, as Iraqi Kurds might have thought, lead to an international storm of opinion against Turkey. In addition, Iran now also fired on bases in Iraq held by the PKK’s Iranian counterpart Pyak.
Iraqi Kurdish leaders found it safest to seek to improve relations with Turkey again. The Turkish attacks on PKK bases in Iraq continued in 2008, subsided in 2009 but resumed in 2010, without audible protests from the Kurdish leaders in Iraq, a country located in Middle East according to localtimezone.org.
Parliamentary elections in the region in 2009 brought forward for the first time a significant Iraqi-Kurdish opposition. The KDP and PUK, which lined up with a joint list, retained power but reduced their mandates from 78 to 59 (out of a total of 111). Instead, the new party Gorran (Change), which broke out of the PUK, in its first election won a full 25 seats and took power in the PUK’s stronghold Sulaymaniyya. Other opposition groups also advanced.
Kirkuk and the oil
After the fall of Saddam Hussein, the Kurds are the group that has worked hardest for Iraq to be a federation with weak central government. Among other things, the Kurds claim the right to oil in areas that they believe belong to Kurdistan. These areas include Kirkuk, which, however, is outside the official Kurdish provinces and has always had a mixed population.
Under the Iraqi constitution of 2005, the federal government in Baghdad controls revenues from existing oil wells but not necessarily from oil wells discovered after 2005. Local authorities in Kurdistan entered into their own business dealings with foreign oil companies, although the government in Baghdad labeled such contracts illegal.
From 2006, the Kurds became the majority in Kirkuk. A referendum on the city’s future should have been held in 2007 but postponed to the future.
Growing economy, wave of protests
After the fall of the Saddam regime, Kurdistan emerged as the quiet corner of Iraq, with economic growth based on oil extraction. Especially in the provincial capital Erbil, there was lively construction activity, and Kurds who returned from exile in Sweden, Germany or the United States have contributed to giving the city a modern face. There have been hopes for a tourism industry.
The Kurdish regional government maintained a high profile and President Massoud Barzani was received as head of state in Washington. The economy was mainly dependent on good relations with neighboring Turkey, whose government hoped to get help in resolving the conflict with the Kurds in its own country. In 2014, Iraqi Kurdistan supplied oil directly to Turkey for the first time through a newly built pipeline, which provoked strong anger in Baghdad.
The wave of uprisings that swept the Arab world in 2011 also resonated in Iraqi Kurdistan. Thousands of people took part in demonstrations against widespread corruption and against the established parties KDP’s and PUK’s position of power. Deaths occurred.
When new elections to the Kurdish parliament were held in 2013, the dominance of the KDP and the PUK was broken for the first time. The KDP clearly won, but Gorran, who profiled himself on criticism of corruption and the lack of transparency in how state revenues are handled, knocked PUK down to third place.