Iraqi Kurdistan has done well for itself in recent decades by carving out a largely autonomous region free of most governance and security interference from Baghdad. The alliance of convenience between the two pre-eminent Kurdish parties (PUK and KDP) effectively seized a number of opportunities to consolidate and expand Iraqi Kurdistan, such as the international no-fly zone (1991), the US intervention (2003), the crafting of a new constitution for Iraq (2005) and, arguably, even the rise of the Islamic State (IS) (2014).
Yet, the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) also faces a triple crisis. Politically, this includes the exclusive and increasingly repressive rule of the KDP and PUK in a context of mediocre governance, as well as strained relations between Erbil and Baghdad over the disputed territories. Economically, it includes a general downturn combined with serious financial disputes with Baghdad. Socially, it includes deteriorating popular satisfaction with the quality of rule and life in Kurdistan.
In this report Erwin van Veen and al-Hamzeh al-Shadeedi analyse four factors that could drive future (in)stability in western Iraqi Kurdistan: 1) geopolitical tensions; 2) further clashes over the disputed territories; 3) growing dissatisfaction with the KDP and 4) protracted displacement. On balance, it does not consider the risk of immediate crisis or violence as being very high, but the report does note that many elements are in place that could easily trigger violent incidents with the potential of escalation. For each factor, the report proposes restraining factors, developments to monitor and trigger events.
While international influence on the domestic politics of Iraqi Kurdistan is limited, coupling an offer of international (UN) mediation to facilitate resolution of the disputed territories with the development, or strengthening, of a dedicated fund that can rapidly initiate the reconstruction of the Greater Mosul area (including some of the disputed territories) would be a valuable intervention to further the peaceful development of Iraqi Kurdistan.