Note that three paragraphs ago, in my mini-summary of the Iraq war, I noted that the 2003 ouster of Saddam Hussein’s regime and the dismantlement of all his ministries hurled “most of the country into sectarian warfare.” (The emphasis, this time, is added.) The one area of Iraq that remained nearly immune from the chaos—the one area that U.S. authorities deemed “stable” through most of the occupation—was the northern area known as Kurdistan, home to roughly 6 million Kurds.
This is true, despite Kurdistan’s multiethnic population (mainly Muslims but also Yazidis, the Yarsan, Christians, and Jews) and its various conflicts over the decades with Baghdad. The main reason for Kurdistan’s stability is that in 1970 the U.S. and Iraqi governments decreed it an autonomous area. More relevant still, after the 1991 Gulf War, the U.N. Security Council, in, Resolution 688, declared the area a “safe haven” to protect Kurds from Saddam Hussein’s wrath. (He had killed thousands of Kurds with chemical weapons during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.) And the United States agreed to enforce the resolution with a “no-fly zone.” (In other words, all Iraqi planes trying to fly over Kurdish territory would be shot down by U.S. air or naval power.)
Under this protection, Kurdistan has thrived. Its per capita income exceeds the rest of Iraq’s by 50 percent, it has free-trade zones with Turkey and Iran (both of which were once rivals or enemies), and it has solid relations with many Western companies.