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Is Iraqi Kurdistan splitting apart ... again?

Political and economic tensions are chipping away at the autonomy, stability and unity of Iraqi Kurdistan as diverse local populations are calling for political reforms and an end to corruption.
A picture taken on July 3, 2014 shows the building of Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region's parliament in Arbil, Kurdistan's capital in northern Iraq. The president of Kurdistan, Massud Barzani asked its parliament to start organising a referendum on independence.   AFP PHOTO / SAFIN HAMED        (Photo credit should read SAFIN HAMED/AFP/Getty Images)
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On a recent episode of the popular Iraqi Kurdish talk show "With Ranj" produced in Sulaimaniyah, the four participants — all members of diverse political parties — debated the Kurdistan Region’s political and financial crises. The discussion was most notable for its tone and substance. Instead of talking about the need for an independent Kurdistan, a topic that has preoccupied mainstream media and analysts inside the Beltway, it focused on just the opposite: political and economic trends that are chipping away at the region’s autonomy and stability. These concerns are resonating throughout the Kurdistan Region, where local populations are criticizing the Kurdistan Regional Government’s opaque oil exports, endemic corruption and failure to pay civil servant salaries, and questioning the legitimacy of Massoud Barzani’s presidency. They are further deepening political and geographic divides that if left unchecked could split the region administratively and/or create civil unrest.

Iraqi Kurdistan’s current tensions reflect the legacies of the Kurdish civil war (1994-98), which divided the region into "yellow" and "green" zones representing the territorial influence of the Democratic Party of Kurdistan (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), respectively. After the war ended, the two parties ran their own administrations in Erbil and Sulaimaniyah for eight years until they "re-unified" in 2006 in the effort to enhance Kurdish leverage in a federal Iraqi state. The merge created a single KRG in Erbil and a Kurdish block in Baghdad, but it never resolved internal disputes over authority, revenues and resources.

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