By way of bringing the four factors discussed above together, it is useful to reflect briefly on the possibility of some, or all, of them interacting with each other. For the sake of contrast, we paint two simple contrasting scenarios based on the current political state of play.

A perfect storm could develop if the election recount reveals worse results for the KDP and PUK and Baghdad follows this with pressure on the KRG to accept its authority, possibly reinforced by aggressive deployments in the disputed areas. This could trigger the KRG to seek control over vital border and infrastructural assets within Iraqi Kurdistan and to instrumentalise its IDP/refugee population. Political tensions between Erbil and Baghdad could lead to violent clashes and the mobilisation of international allies. The Kurds would present such developments as yet more evidence of their marginalisation by Baghdad, while Baghdad would stress the need for national unity and emphasise its sovereign prerogatives. If Iraq’s Kurds reunited under such pressure, a protracted violent crisis might ensue. If they buckled because of the accumulation of dissatisfaction and grievances with KDP and PUK rule, the KRI would become more susceptible to foreign influences. Given an unclear US policy towards the region, Turkey and Russia would probably increase their military and economic influence in western Iraqi Kurdistan while Iran would do the same for its PUK-run eastern parts.

In contrast, a virtuous circle of recovery could occur if the electoral results kept the KPD and PUK in power and made them part of an Iraqi governing coalition that identified a mutually acceptable compromise to resolve the matter of the disputed territories. In turn, this would remove the KDP/PUK appeal to Kurdish nationalism/unity as an excuse for power capture/poor governance and facilitate IDP/refugee return. In this scenario, pressure within Iraqi Kurdistan for political reform might gradually become hard to resist, especially if it was diplomatically supported by the international community. Should the KDP and PUK continue to deploy repressive violence in response, it is likely that greater international condemnation would follow. A more level playing field for political competition might subsequently be established, removing some of the confrontational stance from Kurdish nationalism and instead, buoyed by the reconciliatory resolution of the disputed territories, give way to a negotiated Kurdish buy-in to the Iraqi state.