Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG)




5.2 million


Autonomous regional government in a federal Iraq, appointed by parliament

Head of Kurdistan Region

President Nechirvan Barzani, also Commander in Chief of Peshmerga Armed Forces

Kurdistan regional Government High Representative to the UK

Mr Karwan Jamal Tahir

Kurdistan Regional Government Representation, 2 Hobart Place, London, SW1W 0HU

The UK's Consul General to the Kurdistan Regional Government

Ms Rosy Cave   (Appointed January 2023)

British Consulate General Erbil, BFPO 5425, Irbil, Iraq

Iraq's 2005 Constitution recognises an autonomous Kurdistan region in the north of the country, run by the Kurdistan Regional Government.

This was the outcome of decades of political and military efforts to secure self-rule by the Kurdish minority, who are estimated to number more than 6 million and make up between 17% and 20% of the population of Iraq. The Kurdish people and their identity has long  been defined and born out of oppression and resistance.

A people without their own country

The Kurds are a distinct ethnic and linguistic group, an indigenous people of the Mesopotamian plains and highlands. Their language is a west Iranian language related to Persian and Pashto. Their traditional way of life before World War 1 was principally nomadic and revolved around sheep and goat herding throughout the plains of what now constitutes Iraq, and the highlands of Turkey and Iran.

The enforcement of national boundaries after World War 1 impeded the seasonal migrations of their flocks and dramatically changed their way of life. It also divided up what had been a largely ill-defined region of the Ottoman Empire into areas of the new countries created by the victorious great powers, mainly Britain and France. This left the Kurds with minority status within their respective countries. It also forced them to engage in village life and settled farming. The Kurds adhere to a number of differing creeds and religions, but the majority are Sunni Muslims. They constitute the fourth largest ethnic group in the Middle East.

Areas in the Middle East predominantly occupied by Kurds include south east Turkey, south-western Armenia, north east Syria, western Iran and northern Iraq. When most of these countries attained statehood after the war following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, particularly in the case of Iraq, Syria and Turkey, the Kurds remained as significant minorities in these new nations. (Armenia was absorbed by the Soviet Union in 1920 and Iran, partly occupied in the war by several of its belligerents, regained its independence in 1921.)

During their long history in the region, the Kurds have attempted intermittent independence in various regions of their homelands, but inevitably came under the hegemony of a series of empires  including the Mongols, Saffavids and lastly the Ottomans.

The Treaty of Sevres

In 1920, the Kurds believed they believed they would achieve independence when the defeated Ottoman Empire signed the Treaty of Sevres which provided for a Kurdish state, subject to the agreement of the League of Nations. However, in the following years, the Kurds were to experience betrayal, oppression, and genocide. The Kurds have never obtained a permanent nation state and are often said to be the largest ethnic group without their own nation.

Only the Kurds of Iraq have their own autonomous regional government.

Victims of genocide

Genocidal events such as the so-called "Anfal campaign" of the 1980s in which Saddam Hussein’s forces killed between 50,000 and 182,000 Kurds, have become an important constitutive element of Kurdish national identity. This was reinforced even more by Saddam Hussein's brutal chemical gas attack against the Kurdish town of Halabja in March 1988, which killed up to 5,000 people and injured many more. 

Noisy neighbours

Only in Iraq have the Kurds managed to set up a stable government of their own in recent times, albeit within a federal state. Major problems remain, nonetheless. The Iraqi landlocked Kurdistan Region is surrounded by powerful neighbours Turkey and Iran, as well as war-torn Syria - all of which have Kurdish populations of their own. It is also in dispute with the Iraqi government over several territories in northern Iraq, in particular the historic and oil-rich city of Kirkuk.

Inter-Kurdistan tensions

Tensions between the main Kurdish political parties - the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Democratic Party - have erupted into a civil war in the past, conflicts that almost destroyed the autonomous government in the late nineties.  Some differences remain.

Independence attempts

The Kurds made their last attempt at independence in September 2017 when they held an independence referendum in the face of much international opposition. More than 90% of electors voted for independence but it helped provoke a backlash from the Iraqi government which invaded northern Iraq and took back several vital cities and towns from the Kurds, including oil-rich Kirkuk. Later the same year, the KRG accepted a ruling from Iraq's Supreme Court stating that no province could secede from Iraq.

The fight against Islamic State

The Kurds of Iraq, and Syria, played a key role in the containment and defeat of the Islamic State group (2014-2017). IS posed an existential threat to the Kurds and others  of the varying ethnicities and religions they considered to be apostates. From 2014, IS militants committed acts of genocide in north-western Iraq against the Yazidis, the majority of whom speak Kurdish and consider themselves to be ethnically Kurdish.

IS militants slaughtered thousands of Yazidis, compelled others to convert to its extreme brand of Sunni Islam and forced thousands of women to become their sex slaves and "wives".

In July 2014, IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed the establishment of his so-called caliphate from the Great Mosque of al-Nuri in Iraq's second city of Mosul before making a determined attack on the Kurdistan Region. The Peshmerga thwarted a determined IS assault on Kirkuk and played important roles in key battles such as those for Kobani in Syria - alongside their Syrian brothers and sisters - and the predominantly Yazidi town of Sinja. The Peshmerga were again in action in the vital battle to retake Mosul from IS, which ended in victory for the allies in July 2017.

Key dates

OTTOMANS DEFEATED: The British occupy the oil rich Ottoman province of Mosul following the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War 1, bringing large Kurdish population under their rule
Mosul area is added to the new state of Iraq
TREATY OF SEVRES: Ottomans sign Treaty of Sevres which allows for a Kurdish state - subject to League of Nations approval. Article 64 gives Kurds in Mosul vilayet option of joining independent country
Emir Faisal is crowned King of Iraq, including Mosul
KURD UPRISING: Shaykh Mahmud Barzinji rebels against the British and declares independence in northern Iraq
Kemal Ataturk's newly founded Turkish Republic gains international recognition in the Treaty of Lausanne. The Turkish parliament fails to ratify the Treaty of Sevres
British forces take back the Kurdish city of Sulaymaniyah and defeats Barzinji who retreats in the mountains. He later signs and agreement with Iraq
1920 - 1932
BRITISH MANDATORY IRAQ: The British are given the mandate to run Iraq and prepare it for eventual independence
Kurdish uprising in the Barzan region in northern Iraq in protest over Iraq's admittance to the League of Nations while Kurdish statehood demands are ignored
Mullah Mustafa Bargain leads another uprising and wins control of of large areas of Irbil and Badinan
KDP FOUNDED: Iraqi Kurd Mustafa Barzani founds the Kurdistan Democratic Party. Meanwhile Iran puts down a Kurdish revolt
KDP REVOLT: Mustafa Bargain leads the Kurds of northern Iraq in a revolt against the government of General Abdul Karim Kassem. Iraq puts down the rebellion but fighting between the 2 sides will continue for years
A peace agreement is signed between the Iraqi government and the Kurds, allowing the Kurds of northern Iraq a degree of self-rule
March 1970
Iraqi government and Kurds agree a peace accord, granting the Kurds autonomy and also recognises Kurdish as an official language. It states Iraq is made up of 2 nationalities- the Arab nationality and the Kurds
The KDP attacks Iraqi troops after the government refuses the Kurds control of the northern oil-rich city of Kirkuk which they claims was always part of their territory. Again, the government defeats the revolt
March 1974
Barzani rejects government draft autonomy agreement, as leaves Kirkuk and its oilfields outside Kurdish control, and calls for a new rebellion
PUK FOUNDED: Jalal Talabani leader of the KDP, leaves to found the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, the PUK
ALGIERS ACCORD: Iraq and Iran sign agreement ending Iranian support for the Kurdish revolt , which collapses after Barzani retires
OCALAN AND THE PKK: In Turkey, Abdullah Ocalan helps found the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK which later turns to armed struggle against Turkey
KURD CIVIL WAR: Many die in fighting between KDP AND PUK forces
IRAN: Kurds also rise up during the Iranian revolution but are quickly suppressed by the new revolutionary government headed by Ayatollah Khomeini
Barzani dies and his son Massoud Barzani assumes KDP leadership
1980 - 1988
IRAN -IRAQ WAR: An 8 year long war between Iraq and Iran kills many thousands and ends in stalemate. KDP forces ally closely with Iran, while the PUK remains hostile towards Tehran
An Iranian counter-attack opens a northern front in Kurdish northern Iraq. With support of KDP fighters, Iran takes strategically important town of Hajj Umrain
PUK agrees ceasefire with raw and restarts talks on autonomy
REVENGE SLAUGHTER: Iraqi troops kill around 8,000 men from the KDP leader's home region of Barzan in retaliation for the KDP's help to Iran
Iranian government brokers reconciliation between PUK and KDP. Now both receive support from Tehran
Massoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani join forces with smaller Kurdish parties to form Kurdistan Front
ANFAL MASSACRES: Iraq launches so-called Anfal campaign in Kurdistan killing thousands of Kurds
March 1988
HALABJA: Iraq attacks the eastern Kurdistan city of Halabja with chemical weapons murdering up to 5,000 Kurds and injuring many thousands more
MARCH 1991
GULF WAR: Kurds rise up against Saddam Hussein in the wake off his disastrous defeat by US-led coalition. About 1.5 million Kurds flee from murderous Iraqi government onslaught
April 1991
US-led coalition forces announce a "safe haven" on the Iraqi side of the Turkish border, while international aid agencies help refugees.
April 1991
Talabani and Barzani open talks with Saddam on autonomy
July 1991
Kurdish Peshmerga forces take control of Irbil and Sulaymaniyah in defiance of Iraqi government orders
Oct' 1991
Fighting breaks out between Kurds and Iraqi forces. Saddam enforces a blockade on Kurdish-held northern Iraq
KDP win more than 50% of the vote in elections
1994 - 1997
Civil war in Kurdistan involving PUK and KDP forces
Aided by Iraqi government troops, KDP forces take PUK stronghold of Irbil and Sulaymaniyah
Oct' 1996
PUK retakes Sulaymaniyah and later announces a new government based there
January 1997
KDP announces new government based in Irbil and claims jurisdiction over the whole of Kurdistan
Sept' 1998
Barzani and Talabani sign a peace accord in Washington but government in the Kurdistan government remains split between the 2 rivals
Sept' 2000
Fighting breaks out between PUK and Kurdish Islamist militant group Jund al-Islam, later known as Ansar al-Islam
June 2002
PUK and KDP meet with other Kurdish groups to decide what to do in the event of an anticipated US-led invasion of Iraq
Oct' 2002
Joint session of Kurdish parliament. PUK and KDP politicians agree to work together
Feb' 2003
US accuses Ansar al-Islam of links with Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda
Feb' 2003
Kurdish leaders refuse to allow Turkish troops through their territory as part of the US-led campaign to oust Saddam
March 2003
KDP and PUK create a joint higher leadership under the chairmanship of Talabani and Barzani
March 2002
GULF WAR 2: US-led coalition starts offensive against Iraq by coming Baghdad as well as irbil and Mosul
March 2003
US paratroopers land near Irbil to open up northern front against Saddam
July 2003
Saddam's sons Uday and Qusay are killed in gun fight in Mosul
Feb' 2004
There's a double suicide bombing attack on the HQs of both PUK and KDP in Irbil, killing at least 56 people
Jan' 2005
An alliance of Kurdish parties come 2nd in Iraq's landmark first election, sending 77 deputies to parliament
April 2005
MPs elect Jalal Talabani as interim president of Iraq
June 2005
First session of Kurdish parliament in Irbil. Massoud Barzani becomes President of the autonomous region
Sept' 2006
5 vehicle bombs, including a truck suicide truck bomber, kill 23 people in Kirkuk
May 2007
The Kurdish regional government replaces US security forces in 3 Kurdish provinces
July 2007
At least 300 people are killed in a series of bomb attacks on the Kurdish Yazidi sect in northern Iraq
Feb' 2008
Turkey launches an operation against PKK rebel bases within northern Iraq
June 2009
Kurdish government starts crude oil exports to foreign markets, pumping around 100,000 barrels a day. Central Iraqi government allows the use of its pupil in return for share of the profits
2009 - 2013
Turkey launches intermittent air attacks against PKK in northern Iraq. In 2013, there is an uneasy ceasefire before attacks resume in 2015
May 2013
Kurdish authorities close border to food of Syrian refugees fleeing civil war
Sept' 2013
Regional parliamentary elections provide upset to the government as the opposition Change Movement wins 24 seat, pushing the PUK into 3rd place
March 2014
Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, blocks the transfer of revenues to Kurdish authorities, leaving them unable to pay salaries of officials
May 2014
Kurdistan is able to make its first pipeline oil, despite opposition from Iraqi national government
JUNE 2014
KIRKUK CAPTURED: Kurdish Peshmerga forces capture the oil rich city of Kirkuk, as the Iraqi government battles the advancing forces of ISIL, the Islamic State of Syria and the Levant, to be later known as IS or Daesh
June 2014
MOSUL: IS takes Iraq's 2nd city of Mosul. IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, proclaims IS caliphate from the city's Great Mosque of al-Nuri
July 2014
President bargain announces plans for an independence referendum for later in the year
Aug' 2014
The Peshmerga struggle to fend off ISIL invasion. Kurd forces are defeated at the town of Sinjar, which prompts a tragic exodus of the Yazidis
Oct' 2014
KOBANE: The Peshmerga is sent across the border into Syria to fight alongside Syrian Kurds defending the town of Kobani from IS
Dec' 2014
Iraq and KRG sign a deal to share oil wealth and military resources as both face the common enemy of IS
Dec 2014
Peshmerga and Syrian Kurdish forces take Mount Sinjar from IS
May 2015
Kurdish parliament announces review of the constitution
July 2015
Turkey joins US-led coalition in fight against IS but insists this should hand in hand with allowing Ankara to attack PKK in northern Iraq for the first time since 2013
Nov' 2015
Peshmerga and Turkish PKK forces, backed by US-led coalition forces, take the town of Sinjar from IS
Feb' 2016
KRG cuts officials' salaries to help combat growing financial crisis
June 2016
KRG threatens water supply from River Tigris to the rest of Iraq after Baghdad reduces purchase of wheat products from Kurdistan
June 2016
Peshmerga reports that IS has been using chemical weapons against them
July 2016
US signs agreement with KRG to provide more military aid to Peshmerga, a move that angers Baghdad
Oct' 2016
IS attempts raid on Kirkuk but is beaten off by Peshmerga
Nov' 2016
Peshmerga capture Christian town of Baashiqa as part of the US-led campaign to take Iraq's 2nd city of Mosul, seized by IS in 2014
Jan' 2017
Russia's Gazprom Neft plans to increase oil extraction in Iraqi Kurdistan despite the security threat posed by IS
April 2017
Turkish jets carry out attacks on Peshmerga positions near Sinjar in Iraq and Syrian Kurdish fighters across the border in Syria
June 2017
A Kurdish cross party meeting led by President Barzani agrees to hold an independence referendum on September 25th
Aug' 2017
Leading Kurds establish a "not for now" campaign - to prevent a referendum under current security and economic circumstances
Sept' 2017
Independence referendum is held in the face of international opposition. 92.7% of those polled - some 2.8 million Kurds - vote for independence
Oct' 2017
KIRKUK RE-TAKEN: Iraqi forces launch a military operation into Kurdistan and take back the cities of Kirkuk and Tuz Khurmatu, plus the town of Kifri and a number of important oil fields.
Oct' 2017
In the face of military defeat and the failure of the referendum, Barzani resigns as President of the KRG but remains president of the KDP and still receives ambassadors
Nov' 2017
Iraq's Supreme Court rule that no Iraqi province be allowed to secede in order to preserve the unity of Iraq. The KRG announces it will respect the ruling