Iraqi Kurdistan or Southern Kurdistan (Kurdish: باشووری کوردستان, romanized: Başûrê Kurdistanê) is the Kurdish-populated region incorporated into Iraq and considered by Kurds as one of four parts of Greater Kurdistan. Much of the geographical and cultural region of Iraqi Kurdistan is governed by the Kurdistan Region (KRI) (Kurdish: ههرێمی کوردستان, romanized: Herêmî Kurdistan) which is an autonomous region recognized by the Iraqi constitution.
The Kurdistan Region is largely mountainous, with the highest point being a 3,611 m (11,847 ft) point known locally as Cheekha Dar ("black tent"). Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan include the Zagros, Sinjar Mountains, Hamrin Mountains, Mount Nisir and Qandil mountains. There are many rivers running through the region, which is distinguished by its fertile lands, plentiful water, and picturesque nature. The Great Zab and the Little Zab flow from the east to the west in the region. The Tigris river enters Iraqi Kurdistan from Turkish Kurdistan.
The mountainous nature of Iraqi Kurdistan, the difference of temperatures in its various parts, and its wealth of waters make it a land of agriculture and tourism. The largest lake in the region is Lake Dukan. There are also several smaller lakes, such as Darbandikhan Lake and Duhok Lake. The western and southern parts of the Kurdistan Region are not as mountainous as the east. Instead, it is rolling hills and plains vegetated by sclerophyll scrubland.
Vegetation in the region includes, Abies cilicica, Quercus calliprinos, Quercus brantii, Quercus infectoria, Quercus ithaburensis, Quercus macranthera, Cupressus sempervirens, Platanus orientalis, Pinus brutia, Juniperus foetidissima, Juniperus excelsa, Juniperus oxycedrus, Salix alba, Olea europaea, Ficus carica, Populus euphratica, Populus nigra, Crataegus monogyna, Crataegus azarolus, cherry plum, rose hips, pistachio trees, pear and Sorbus graeca. The desert in the south is mostly steppe and would feature xeric plants such as palm trees, tamarix, date palm, fraxinus, poa, white wormwood and chenopodiaceae.
Animals found in the region include the Syrian brown bear, wild boar, gray wolf, golden jackal, Indian crested porcupine, red fox, goitered gazelle, Eurasian otter, striped hyena, Persian fallow deer, onager, mangar and the Euphrates softshell turtle.
Bird species include, the see-see partridge, Menetries's warbler, western jackdaw, Red-billed chough, hooded crow, European nightjar, rufous-tailed scrub robin, masked shrike and the pale rockfinch.
Due to its latitude and altitude, Iraqi Kurdistan is cooler and much wetter than the rest of Iraq. Most areas in the region fall within the Mediterranean climate zone (Csa), with areas to the southwest being semi-arid (BSh). Due to the summers being less extreme, thousands of tourists from the hotter parts of Iraq come to visit the region in that season.
Despite its reputation for having "mild" summers, they are still very hot for non-Iraqi standards though, with average temperatures ranging from 35 °C (95 °F) in the cooler northernmost areas to blistering 40 °C (104 °F) in the southwest, with lows around 21 °C (70 °F) to 24 °C (75 °F). Winters, however, are dramatically cooler than other areas in Iraq, with highs averaging between 9 °C (48 °F) and 11 °C (52 °F) and with lows hovering around 3 °C (37 °F) in some areas and freezing in others, dipping to −2 °C (28 °F) and 0 °C (32 °F) on average. Elevated places such as mountain tops would be colder.
Among other cities in the climate table below, Soran, Shaqlawa and Halabja also experience lows which average below 0 °C (32 °F) in winter. Duhok has the hottest summers in the region with highs averaging around 42 °C (108 °F). Annual rainfall contrasts in the region, with some places seeing rainfall as low as 500 millimetres (20 in) in Erbil to as high as 900 millimetres (35 in) in places like Amadiya. Most of the rain falls in winter and spring, and it's usually heavy. Summer and early autumn are virtually dry. Spring is fairly tepid. Iraqi Kurdistan sees snowfall occasionally in the winter, and frost is very common. There is a seasonal lag in some places in summer, with temperatures peaking around August and September.
In prehistoric times, the region was home to a Neanderthal culture such as has been found at the Shanidar Cave. The region was host to the Jarmo culture circa 7000 BC. The earliest neolithic site in Kurdistan is at Tell Hassuna, the centre of the Hassuna culture, circa 6000 BC. The region was inhabited by the northern branch of the Gutian/Hurrians around 2400 BC.
It was ruled by the Akkadian Empire from 2334 BC until 2154 BC. Assyrian kings are attested from the 23rd century BC according to the Assyrian King List, and Assyrian city-states such as Ashur and Ekallatum started appearing in the region from the mid-21st century BC. Prior to the rule of king Ushpia circa 2030 BC, the city of Ashur appears to have been a regional administrative center of the Akkadian Empire, implicated by Nuzi tablets, subject to their fellow Akkadian Sargon and his successors.
Large cities were built by the Assyrians, including Ashur, Nineveh, Guzana, Arrapkha, Imgur-Enlil (Balawat), Shubat-Enlil and Kalhu (Calah / Nimrud). One of the major Assyrian cities in the area, Erbil (Arba-Ilu), was noted for its distinctive cult of Ishtar, and the city was called "the Lady of Ishtar" by its Assyrian inhabitants. The Assyrians ruled the region from the 21st century BC.
The region was known as Assyria, and was the center of various Assyrian empires (particularly during the periods 1813–1754 BC, 1385–1076 BC and the Neo Assyrian Empire of 911–608 BC. Between 612 and 605 BC, the Assyrian empire fell and it passed to the neo-Babylonians and later became part of the Athura Satrap within the Achaemenian Empire from 539 to 332 BC, where it was known as Athura, the Achaemenid name for Assyria.
The region fell to Alexander The Great in 332 BC and was thereafter ruled by the Greek Seleucid Empire until the mid 2nd century BC (and was renamed Syria, a Greek corruption of Assyria), when it fell to Mithridates I of Parthia. The Assyrian semi-independent kingdom of Adiabene was centred in Erbil in the first Christian centuries. Later, the region was incorporated by the Romans as the Roman Assyria province but shortly retaken by the Sassanids who established the Satrap of Assuristan (Sassanid Assyria) in it until the Arab Islamic conquest. The region became a center of the Assyrian Church of the East and a flourishing Syriac literary tradition during Sassanid rule.
The region was conquered by Arab Muslims in the mid 7th century AD as the invading forces conquered the Sassanian Empire, while Assyria was dissolved as a geo-political entity (although Assyrians remain in the area to this day), and the area made part of the Muslim Arab Rashidun, Umayyad, and later the Abbasid Caliphates, before becoming part of various Iranian, Turkic, and Mongol emirates. Following the disintegration of the Ak Koyunlu, all of its territories including what is modern-day Iraqi Kurdistan passed to the Iranian Safavids in the earliest 16th century.
Between the 16th and 17th century the area nowadays known as Iraqi Kurdistan, (formerly ruled by three principalities of Baban, Badinan, and Soran) was continuously passed back and forth between archrivals the Safavids and the Ottomans, until the Ottomans managed to decisively seize power in the region starting from the mid 17th century through the Ottoman–Safavid War (1623–39) and the resulting Treaty of Zuhab. In the early 18th century it briefly passed to the Iranian Afsharids led by Nader Shah. Following Nader's death in 1747, Ottoman suzerainty was reimposed, and in 1831, direct Ottoman rule was established which lasted until World War I, when the Ottomans were defeated by the British.
During World War I, the British and French divided Western Asia in the Sykes-Picot Agreement. The Treaty of Sèvres (which did not enter into force), and the Treaty of Lausanne which superseded it, led to the advent of modern Western Asia and the modern Republic of Turkey. The League of Nations granted France mandates over Syria and Lebanon and granted the United Kingdom mandates over Palestine (which then consisted of two autonomous regions: Mandatory Palestine and Transjordan) and what was to become Iraq. Parts of the Ottoman Empire on the Arabian Peninsula were eventually taken over by Saudi Arabia and Yemen.
On December 1, 1918, during a meeting in Sulaymaniyah with Colonel Arnold Wilson, the Acting Civil Commissioner for Mesopotamia, Kurdish leaders called for British support for a united and independent Kurdistan under British protection. Between 1919 and 1922, Shaikh Mahmud Barzanji, an influential Kurdish leader based in Sulaymaniyah, formed a Kurdish government and led two revolts against the British rule. It took the British authorities until 1924 to put down his uprisings. The first revolt began on May 22, 1919 with the arrest of British officials in Sulaymaniyah and it quickly spread to Mosul and Erbil. The British employed aerial bombardments, artillery, and ground attacks by Anglo-Indian troops and Assyrian Levies, to quell the uprising.
With the collapse of the Kurdish forces, the British exiled Mahmud Barzanji to India. In July 1920, 62 tribal leaders of the region called for the independence of Kurdistan under a British mandate. The objection of the British to Kurdish self-rule sprang from the fear that success of an independent Kurdish area would tempt the two Arab areas of Baghdad and Basra to follow suit, hence endangering the direct British control over all Mesopotamia. In 1922, Britain restored Shaikh Mahmud to power, hoping that he would organize the Kurds to act as a buffer against the Turks, who had territorial claims over Mosul and Kirkuk. However, defiant to the British, in 1922 Shaikh Mahmoud declared a Kurdish Kingdom with himself as king. It took two years for the British to bring Kurdish areas into submission, while Shaikh Mahmud found refuge in an unknown location.
By 1927, the Barzani clan had become vocal supporters of Kurdish rights in Iraq. In 1929, the Barzani demanded the formation of a Kurdish province in northern Iraq. Emboldened by these demands, in 1931 Kurdish notables petitioned the League of Nations to set up an independent Kurdish government. In late 1931, Ahmed Barzani initiated a Kurdish rebellion against Iraq, and though defeated within several months, the movement gained a major importance in the Kurdish struggle later on, creating the ground for such a notable Kurdish rebel as Mustafa Barzani.
During World War II, the power vacuum in Iraq was exploited by the Kurdish tribes and under the leadership of Mustafa Barzani a rebellion broke out in the north, effectively gaining control of Kurdish areas until 1945, when Iraqis could once again subdue the Kurds with British support. Under pressure from the Iraqi government and the British, the most influential leader of the clan, Mustafa Barzani was forced into exile in Iran in 1945. Later he moved to the Soviet Union after the collapse of the Republic of Mahabad in 1946.
After the military coup by Abdul Karim Qasim in 1958, Mustafa Barzani was invited by Qasim to return from exile, where he was greeted with a hero's welcome. As part of the deal arranged between Qasim and Barzani, Qasim had promised to give the Kurds regional autonomy in return for Barzani's support for his policies. Meanwhile, during 1959–1960, Barzani became the head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), which was granted legal status in 1960. By early 1960, it became apparent that Qasim would not follow through with his promise of regional autonomy. As a result, the KDP began to agitate for regional autonomy. In the face of growing Kurdish dissent, as well as Barzani's personal power, Qasim began to incite the Barzanis historical enemies, the Baradost and Zebari tribes, which led to intertribal warfare throughout 1960 and early 1961.
By February 1961, Barzani had successfully defeated the pro-government forces and consolidated his position as leader of the Kurds. At this point, Barzani ordered his forces to occupy and expel government officials from all Kurdish territory. This was not received well in Baghdad, and as a result, Qasim began to prepare for a military offensive against the north to return government control of the region. Meanwhile, in June 1961, the KDP issued a detailed ultimatum to Qasim outlining Kurdish grievances and demanded rectification. Qasim ignored the Kurdish demands and continued his planning for war.
It was not until September 10, when an Iraqi army column was ambushed by a group of Kurds, that the Kurdish revolt truly began. In response to the attack, Qasim lashed out and ordered the Iraqi Air Force to indiscriminately bomb Kurdish villages, which ultimately served to rally the entire Kurdish population to Barzani's standard. Due to Qasim's profound distrust of the Iraqi Army, which he purposely failed to adequately arm (in fact, Qasim implemented a policy of ammunition rationing), Qasim's government was not able to subdue the insurrection. This stalemate irritated powerful factions within the military and is said to be one of the main reasons behind the Ba'athist coup against Qasim in February 1963. In November 1963, after considerable infighting amongst the civilian and military wings of the Ba'athists, they were ousted by Abdul Salam Arif in a coup. Then, after another failed offensive, Arif declared a ceasefire in February 1964 which provoked a split among Kurdish urban radicals on one hand and Peshmerga (Freedom fighters) forces led by Barzani on the other.
Barzani agreed to the ceasefire and fired the radicals from the party. Following the unexpected death of Arif, whereupon he was replaced by his brother, Abdul Rahman Arif, the Iraqi government launched a last-ditch effort to defeat the Kurds. This campaign failed in May 1966, when Barzani forces thoroughly defeated the Iraqi Army at the Battle of Mount Handrin, near Rawandiz. At this battle, it was said that the Kurds slaughtered an entire brigade. Recognizing the futility of continuing this campaign, Rahamn Arif announced a 12-point peace program in June 1966, which was not implemented due to the overthrow of Rahman Arif in a 1968 coup by the Baath Party.
The Ba'ath government started a campaign to end the Kurdish insurrection, which stalled in 1969. This can be partly attributed to the internal power struggle in Baghdad and also tensions with Iran. Moreover, the Soviet Union pressured the Iraqis to come to terms with Barzani. A peace plan was announced in March 1970 and provided for broader Kurdish autonomy. The plan also gave Kurds representation in government bodies, to be implemented in four years. Despite this, the Iraqi government embarked on an Arabization program in the oil rich regions of Kirkuk and Khanaqin in the same period.
In the following years, Baghdad government overcame its internal divisions and concluded a treaty of friendship with the Soviet Union in April 1972 and ended its isolation within the Arab world. On the other hand, Kurds remained dependent on the Iranian military support and could do little to strengthen their forces.
Regional autonomy had originally been established in 1970 with the creation of the Kurdish Autonomous Region following the agreement of an Autonomy Accord between the government of Iraq and leaders of the Iraqi Kurdish community. A Legislative Assembly was established and Erbil became the capital of the new entity which lay in Northern Iraq, encompassing the Kurdish authorities of Erbil, Dahuk and Sulaymaniyah. The one-party rule which had dominated Iraq however meant that the new assembly was an overall component of Baghdad's central government; the Kurdish authority was installed by Baghdad and no multi-party system had been inaugurated in Iraqi Kurdistan, and as such the local population enjoyed no particular democratic freedom denied to the rest of the country.
In 1973, the US made a secret agreement with the Shah of Iran to begin covertly funding Kurdish rebels against Bagdad through the Central Intelligence Agency and in collaboration with Mossad, both of which would be active in the country through the launch of the Iraqi invasion and into the present. By 1974, the Iraqi government retaliated with a new offensive against the Kurds and pushed them close to the border with Iran. Iraq informed Tehran that it was willing to satisfy other Iranian demands in return for an end to its aid to the Kurds. With mediation by Algerian President Houari Boumediene, Iran and Iraq reached a comprehensive settlement in March 1975 known as the Algiers Pact. The agreement left the Kurds helpless and Tehran cut supplies to the Kurdish movement. Barzani went to Iran with many of his supporters. Others surrendered en masse and the rebellion ended after a few days.
As a result, Iraqi government extended its control over the northern region after 15 years and in order to secure its influence, started an Arabization program by moving Arabs to the vicinity of oil fields in Kurdistan, particularly those around Kirkuk. The repressive measures carried out by the government against the Kurds after the Algiers agreement led to renewed clashes between the Iraqi Army and Kurdish guerrillas in 1977. In 1978 and 1979, 600 Kurdish villages were burned down and around 200,000 Kurds were deported to the other parts of the country.
The Ba'athist government of Iraq forcibly displaced and culturally Arabized minorities (Kurds, Yezidis, Assyrians, Shabaks, Armenians, Turkmen, Mandeans), in line with settler colonialist policies, from the 1960s to the early 2000s, in order to shift the demographics of North Iraq towards Arab domination. The Baath party under Saddam Hussein engaged in active expulsion of minorities from the mid-1970s onwards. In 1978 and 1979, 600 Kurdish villages were burned down and around 200,000 Kurds were deported to the other parts of the country.
The campaigns took place during the Iraqi–Kurdish conflict, being largely motivated by the Kurdish–Arab ethnic and political conflict. Arab settlement programs reached their peak during the late 1970s, in line with depopulation efforts of the Ba'athist regime. The Baathist policies motivating those events are sometimes referred to as "internal colonialism", described by Dr. Francis Kofi Abiew as a "Colonial 'Arabization'" program, including large-scale Kurdish deportations and forced Arab settlement in the region.
During the Iran–Iraq War, the Iraqi government again implemented anti-Kurdish policies and a de facto civil war broke out. Iraq was widely condemned by the international community, but was never seriously punished for oppressive measures, including the use of chemical weapons against the Kurds, which resulted in thousands of deaths. The Al-Anfal Campaign constituted a systematic genocide of the Kurdish people in Iraq. The first wave of the plan was carried out in 1982 when 8,000 Barzanis were arrested and their remains were returned to Kurdistan in 2008.
The second and more extensive and widespread wave began from March 29, 1987 until April 23, 1989, when the Iraqi army under the command of Saddam Hussein & Ali Hassan al-Majid carried out a genocidal campaign against the Kurds, characterized by the following human rights violations: The widespread use of chemical weapons, the wholesale destruction of some 2,000 villages, and slaughter of around 50,000 rural Kurds, by the most conservative estimates. The large Kurdish town of Qala Dizeh (population 70,000) was completely destroyed by the Iraqi army. The campaign also included Arabization of Kirkuk, a program to drive Kurds and other ethnic groups out of the oil-rich city and replace them with Arab settlers from central and southern Iraq.
Even though autonomy had been agreed in 1970, local population enjoyed no particular democratic freedom denied to the rest of the country. Things began to change after the 1991 uprising against Saddam Hussein at the end of the Persian Gulf War. United Nations Security Council Resolution 688 gave birth to a safe haven following international concern for the safety of Kurdish refugees. The U.S. and the Coalition established a No Fly Zone over a large part of northern Iraq (see Operation Provide Comfort), however, it left out Sulaymaniyah, Kirkuk and other important Kurdish populated regions. Bloody clashes between Iraqi forces and Kurdish troops continued and, after an uneasy and shaky balance of power was reached, the Iraqi government fully withdrew its military and other personnel from the region in October 1991 allowing Iraqi Kurdistan to function de facto independently. The region was to be ruled by the two principal Kurdish parties; the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). The region also has its own flag and national anthem.
At the same time, Iraq imposed an economic blockade over the region, reducing its oil and food supplies. Elections held in June 1992 produced an inconclusive outcome, with the assembly divided almost equally between the two main parties and their allies. During this period, the Kurds were subjected to a double embargo: one imposed by the United Nations on Iraq and one imposed by Saddam Hussein on their region. The severe economic hardships caused by the embargoes fueled tensions between the two dominant political parties, the KDP and the PUK, over control of trade routes and resources. Relations between the PUK and the KDP started to become dangerously strained from September 1993 after rounds of amalgamations occurred between parties. This led to internecine and intra-Kurdish conflict and warfare between 1994 and 1996.
After 1996, 13% of the Iraqi oil sales were allocated for Iraqi Kurdistan and this led to relative prosperity in the region. Saddam had established an oil smuggling route through territory controlled by the KDP, with the active involvement of senior Barzani family members. The taxation of this trade at the crossing point between Saddam’s territory and Kurdish controlled territory and then into Turkey, along with associated service revenue, meant that whoever controlled Dohuk and Zakho had the potential to earn several million dollars a week. Direct United States mediation led the two parties to a formal ceasefire in what was termed the Washington Agreement in September 1998. It is also argued that the Oil-for-Food Programme from 1997 onward had an important effect on cessation of hostilities.
Iraqi Kurds played an important role in the Iraq War. Kurdish parties joined forces against the Iraqi government during the war in Spring 2003. Kurdish military forces, known as Peshmerga, played an important role in the overthrow of the Iraqi government; however, Kurds have been reluctant to send troops into Baghdad since then, preferring not to be dragged into the sectarian struggle that so dominates much of Iraq.
The Iraqi Kurds may be seen in two ways. The first and the most common way is to view the Kurds as victims, both of the central government in Iraq and of neighbouring powers – particularly Turkey. The second opposing position is to see them as an agent provocateur, acting as proxy forces for states opposed to the incumbent Iraqi regime.
A new constitution of Iraq was established in 2005, defining Iraq as a federalist state consisting of Regions and Governorates. It recognized both the Kurdistan Region and all laws passed by the KRG since 1992. There is provision for Governorates to create, join or leave Regions. However, as of late 2015, no new Regions have been formed, and the KRG remains the only regional government within Iraq.
Since the downfall of the regime of Saddam Hussein, the relations between the KRG and Turkey have been in flux. Tensions marked a high stage in late February 2008 when Turkey unilaterally took military action against the PKK which at times uses the northern Iraq region as a base for militant activities against Turkey. The incursion, which lasted eight days, could have drawn the armed forces of Kurdistan into a broader regional war. However, relations have been improved since then, and Turkey now has the largest share of foreign investment in Kurdistan.
Tensions between Iraqi Kurdistan and the central Iraqi government mounted through 2011–2012 on the issues of power sharing, oil production and territorial control. In April 2012, the president of Iraq's semi-autonomous northern Kurdish region demanded that officials agree to their demands or face the prospect of secession from Baghdad by September 2012.
In September 2012, the Iraqi government ordered the KRG to transfer its powers over the Peshmerga to the central government. Relations became further strained by the formation of a new command center (Tigris Operation Command) for Iraqi forces to operate in a disputed area over which both Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government claim jurisdiction. On 16 November 2012 a military clash between the Iraqi forces and the Peshmerga resulted in one person killed. CNN reported that two people were killed (one of them an Iraqi soldier) and ten wounded in clashes at the Tuz Khurmato town.
As of 2014, Iraqi Kurdistan is in dispute with the Federal Iraqi government on the issues of territorial control, export of oil and budget distribution and is functioning largely outside Baghdad's control. With the escalation of the Iraqi crisis and fears of Iraq's collapse, Kurds have increasingly debated the issue of independence. During the 2014 Northern Iraq offensive, Iraqi Kurdistan seized the city of Kirkuk and the surrounding area, as well as most of the disputed territories in Northern Iraq. On 1 July 2014, Masoud Barzani announced that "Iraq's Kurds will hold an independence referendum within months." After previously opposing the independence for Iraqi Kurdistan, Turkey later gave signs that it could recognize an independent Kurdish state. On 11 July 2014, KRG forces seized control of the Bai Hassan and Kirkuk oilfields, prompting a condemnation from Baghdad and a threat of "dire consequences" if the oilfields were not relinquished back to Iraq's control.
In September, Kurdish leaders decided to postpone the referendum so as to focus on the fight against ISIL. In November, Ed Royce, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the United States House of Representatives, introduced legislation to arm the Kurds directly, rather than continue working through the local governments.
In February 2016, Kurdish president Barzani stated once again that "Now the time is ripe for the people of Kurdistan to decide their future through a referendum", supporting an independence referendum and citing similar referenda in Scotland, Catalonia and Quebec. On March 23, Barzani officially declared that Iraqi Kurdistan will hold the referendum some time "before October" of that year. On April 2, 2017, the two governing parties released a joint statement announcing they would form a joint committee to prepare for a referendum to be held on 25 September.
KRG-controlled parts of Iraqi Kurdistan contain 4 billion barrels of proven oil reserves. However, the KRG has estimated that the region contains around 45 billion barrels (7.2×10^9 m3) of unproven oil resource. Extraction of these reserves began in 2007.
In November 2011, Exxon challenged the Iraqi central government's authority with the signing of oil and gas contracts for exploration rights to six parcels of land in Kurdistan, including one contract in the disputed territories, just east of the Kirkuk mega-field. This act caused Baghdad to threaten to revoke Exxon's contract in its southern fields, most notably the West-Qurna Phase 1 project. Exxon responded by announcing its intention to leave the West-Qurna project.
As of July 2007, the Kurdish government solicited foreign companies to invest in 40 new oil sites, with the hope of increasing regional oil production over the following 5 years by a factor of five, to about 1 million barrels per day (160,000 m3/d). Gas and associated gas reserves are in excess of 100×10^12 cu ft (2,800 km3). Notable companies active in Kurdistan include Exxon, Total, Chevron, Talisman Energy, DNO, MOL Group, Genel Energy, Hunt Oil, Gulf Keystone Petroleum, and Marathon Oil.
Other mineral resources that exist in significant quantities in the region include coal, copper, gold, iron, limestone (which is used to produce cement), marble, and zinc. The world's largest deposit of rock sulfur is located just southwest of Erbil.
In July 2012, Turkey and the Kurdistan Regional Government signed an agreement by which Turkey will supply the KRG with refined petroleum products in exchange for crude oil. Crude deliveries are expected to occur on a regular basis.
Infrastructure and transport
Due to the devastation of the campaigns of the Iraqi army under Saddam Hussein and other former Iraqi regimes, the Kurdistan Region's infrastructure was never able to modernize. After the 1991 safe haven was established, the Kurdistan Regional Government began projects to reconstruct the Kurdistan Region. Since then, of all the 4,500 villages that were destroyed by Saddam Husseins' regime, 65% have been reconstructed by the KRG.
Iraqi Kurdistan can be reached by land and air. By land, Iraqi Kurdistan can be reached most easily by Turkey through the Habur Border Gate which is the only border gate between Iraqi Kurdistan and Turkey. This border gate can be reached by bus or taxi from airports in Turkey as close as the Mardin or Diyarbakir airports, as well as from Istanbul or Ankara. Iraqi Kurdistan has two border gates with Iran, the Haji Omaran border gate and the Bashmeg border gate near the city of Sulaymaniyah. Iraqi Kurdistan has also a border gate with Syria known as the Faysh Khabur border gate. From within Iraq, the Kurdistan Region can be reached by land from multiple roads.
Iraqi Kurdistan has opened its doors to the international world by opening two international airports. Erbil International Airport and Sulaimaniyah International Airport, which both operate flights to Middle Eastern and European destinations. The KRG spent millions of dollars on the airports to attract international carriers, and currently Turkish Airlines, Austrian Airlines, Lufthansa, Etihad, Royal Jordanian, Emirates, Gulf Air, Middle East Airlines, Atlas Jet, and Fly Dubai all service the Region. There are at least 2 military airfields in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Due to the absence of a proper census, the exact population and demographics of Iraqi Kurdistan are unknown, but the Kurdish Regional Government has recently started to publish more detailed figures. The population of the region is notoriously difficult to ascertain, as the Iraqi government has historically sought to minimize the importance of the Kurdish minority while Kurdish groups have had a tendency to exaggerate the numbers. Based on available data, Iraqi Kurdistan has a young population with an estimated 36% of the population being under the age of 15. As of 2018, the population of Iraqi Kurdistan had reached 5.9 million people. The ethnic make-up of Iraqi Kurdistan is diverse, including a Kurdish majority and significant ethnic minorities of Arabs, Turkmen, Assyrians, Armenians and ethno-religious minorities of Shabaks, Kakai and Yazidis.
Kurdish is the most widely spoken language. The two main dialects of Kurdish are Sorani and Kurmanji in its Bahdini variant, but a part of the population also speaks Hawrami, especially in the Halabja region. In Shingal (also called Jebel Sinjar), people speak a Kurmanji dialect known as Shengali.
Iraqi Kurdistan has a religiously diverse population. The dominant religion is Islam, which is professed by the majority of Iraqi Kurdistan's inhabitants. These include Kurds, Iraqi Turkmen, and Arabs, belonging mostly to the Shafi'i school of Sunni Islam. There is also a small number of Shia Feyli Kurds, as well as adherents of Sufi Islam.
Yezidis make up a significant minority, with some 650,000 in 2005, or 560,000 as of 2013, The Shabaki and Yarsan (Ahl-e Haqq or Kakai) religions number around and 250,000 and 200,000 adherents respectively; these, like Yezidism, are sometimes said to be related to the pre-Islamic indigenous religion of Kurdistan.
The Zoroastrian religion have around 500 followers according to an official research from the religious affairs committee from the parliament. Zoroastrians were seeking official recognition of their religion as of early 2016. The first Zoroastrian temple was opened in the city of Sulaymaniyah (Silêmanî) in September 2016.
Since the overthrow of the regime of Saddam Hussein in 2003, Iraqi Kurdistan has witnessed massive immigration from the rest of Iraq (particularly from Kurds, Assyrians, Armenians, Mandeans, Shabaks), as well as Kurds from other parts of Kurdistan. Because of the stability and security, Kurdistan has witnessed non-Kurdish or non-Iraqi immigrants.
Widespread economic activity between Iraqi Kurdistan and Turkey has given the opportunity for Kurds from Turkey to seek jobs in Iraqi Kurdistan. A Kurdish newspaper based in the Kurdish capital estimates that around 50,000 Kurds from Turkey are now living in Kurdistan Reports about immigrant Kurds from Syria, Iran and Turkey have been published as well.
The Kurdistan Region is hosting 1.2 million displaced Iraqis who have been displaced by the ISIS war, as of early December 2017. There were about 335,000 in the area prior to 2014 with the rest arriving in 2014 as a result of unrest in Syria and attacks by the Islamic State. In addition the Kurdistan Region hosts around 240,000 Syrian refugees who fled the Syrian Civil War, as of January 2018.
Kurdish culture is a group of distinctive cultural traits practiced by Kurdish people. The Kurdish culture is a legacy from the various ancient peoples who shaped modern Kurds and their society, but primarily Iranian. Among their neighbours, the Kurdish culture is closest to Persian culture. For example, they celebrate Newroz as the new year day, which is celebrated on March 21. It is the first day of the month of Xakelêwe in Kurdish calendar and the first day of spring. Other peoples such as Arabs, Assyrians, Armenians, Shabaks and Mandeans have their own distinctive cultures.
Traditionally, there are three types of Kurdish classical performers – storytellers (çîrokbêj), minstrels (stranbêj) and bards (dengbêj). There was no specific music related to the Kurdish princely courts, and instead, music performed in night gatherings (şevbihêrk) is considered classical. Several musical forms are found in this genre. Many songs are epic in nature, such as the popular lawiks which are heroic ballads recounting the tales of Kurdish heroes of the past like Saladin. Heyrans are love ballads usually expressing the melancholy of separation and unfulfilled love. Lawje is a form of religious music and Payizoks are songs performed specifically in autumn. Love songs, dance music, wedding and other celebratory songs (dîlok/narînk), erotic poetry and work songs are also popular.
Football is the most popular sport in Iraqi Kurdistan, overseen by the Iraqi Kurdistan Football Association. KFA submit an application for membership in FIFA. The Kurdistan Premier League is a Kurdish professional league for men's association football clubs. At the top of the Kurdish football league system, it is the country's primary football competition. Contested by 14 clubs, it operates on a system of promotion and relegation. October 2012, Kurdistan Kickboxing Association (KKA) was officially announced as the new member of World Kickboxing and Karate Association (WKA). Also member of World Kickboxing and Karate Union (WKU). In 2012 Kurdistan won the Viva World Cup as the host of the tournament.