Repository logo

Kurdish Politics in the Cauldron of the Middle East: Lessons from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) of Iraq from Post-Invasion 2003 to the 2017 Independence Referendum

Change log


Salih, Rebwar Rawf 


This thesis aims to critically analyse the political system of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI), with a particular focus on the 2017 independence referendum to see why its government (the KRG) has lost strength internally by losing the trust of its people and externally towards Baghdad politically, economically and militarily. The thesis explains the methodology used to collect data during six months of fieldwork and 93 interviews. The following qualitative analysis examines the effect that the Kurds have had on the politics of Iraq, the Middle East and beyond in detail, and Kurdish politics in Iraq is treated as a case study. The research uses data from primary and secondary sources, focusing on interviews, observation and archival documents and collecting data through the opinions and the interpretation of the words of interviewees in relation to accepted theories in the literature. This thesis is original in terms of its relationship to history as well as broader regional questions, which I will contextualise through the recounting of events in the periods I am examining. However, what makes this contribution unique is my original empirical work in conducting systematic and rigorous interviews not only with political elites, but also with writers, judges, activists and political analysts. The thesis analyses the historical background of Kurdish politics in Iraq and examines the party political system in the KRI, with a main focus on historical division within the Kurds and the emergence and development of the main two ruling parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). It explains how both parties maintain power and rule the region. The thesis looks at Kurdish politics in post-2003 Iraq and examines the idea of consociationalism to address the approaches used to manage conflicts in divided societies, with an emphasis on the role played by ethnic and sectarian differences. The thesis examines which conflict regulation theory is best suited for Iraq—consociationalism and federalism or majoritarian unitary models. The attitude the Kurdish leadership adopted in Erbil is examined, along with the policies and decision-making processes within the KRG towards Baghdad and the reasons the KRG went ahead with the independence referendum. The consequences the referendum brought to the KRG are examined to help work out why consociationalism was unable to prevent unrest. The text examines the conflict brought about by the referendum, analysing the reactions from Baghdad, regional powers and the international community, particularly the United States. The polarization among the Kurdish political parties which led to their defeat on 16th October 2017 is examined, as well as issues raised by the referendum. The thesis looks at the KRI’s political system and explains whether the Kurds have formed a systematic government within their own region. Did the KRG follow democratic principles and liberal values, or is based on nepotism, dynasticism and corruption. The thesis focuses on how the KRG functions and provides services before analysing the judicial system in order to see if it is functioning independently. The region’s economy is analysed with a particular focus on oil, and oil-based economics is analysed based on the theory of rentier economic systems. The geopolitical effects of the Kurds in the Middle East are examined by critically analysing Kurdish politics in Iraq, where the Kurds have tried to build independent socio-economic structures and take control of oil resources and revenues.





Miley, Thomas Jeffrey


consociationalism, KDP, KRG, KRI, PUK, sectarianism, referendum, institutionalisation, meritocracy


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge