Iraq’s self-ruling Kurds are pushing for independence from Iraq amid continued armed clashes between Sunni insurgents and pro-state forces. The Kurdish military, known as “pesh merga,” recently took over Kirkuk and other nothernmost regions in Iraq. Kirkuk is considered the ancestral capital of Kurdistan and is abundant with oil.
Through the new oil fields, the Kurdistan Regional Government is pursuing its own oil exports to Austria, Russia and Israel. While Iraqi Kurdish President Massoud Barzani said Wednesday that now is the time for Kurdistan people to “determine their future,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry urged the Kurdish leadership to “stay united” with Iraq.
The Kurds, the largest stateless ethnic group, has continuously attempted to achieve independence but has only been able to have autonomy from Baghdad for about two decades.
The total Kurdish population is estimated at 30 million to 35 million worldwide, with most living in Turkey, Iran and Iraq.