The disputed territories of Northern Iraq

ISIS and beyond

Authored by: Liam Anderson

Routledge Handbook on the Kurds

Print publication date:  August  2018
Online publication date:  August  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138646643
eBook ISBN: 9781315627427
Adobe ISBN:


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Iraq’s disputed territories—a broad swathe of resource-rich land stretching across northern Iraq from Sinjar on the Syrian border, down to Mandali on the Iranian border—is where Iraq’s Arab, Kurdish, and Turkmen populations coincide. At the heart of the territories, both geographically and symbolically, lies the contested, oil-rich governorate (and city) of Kirkuk. Though claimed as the “heart of Kurdistan” by Kurdish President Masoud Barzani, it is clear that Kirkuk’s sizable Arab and Turkmen populations reject these claims and are opposed to being (as they see it) annexed to the Kurdistan Region. The political process for resolving the future status of Kirkuk and other disputed territories, as outlined in Articles 58 of the interim constitution and 140 of the permanent constitution, ground to a halt in late 2007. In the absence of a recognized process in place to resolve the status of these territories, Kurdish military forces remained deployed along one side of the so-called “trigger line” to protect Kurdish populations situated outside the recognized Kurdistan Region, while Iraqi armed forces (IAF) confronted them from the other side in a tense standoff. The rise of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the consequent disintegration of the IAF changed the dynamics of the disputed territories in subtle, but important ways. Most notably, the campaign to oust ISIS has seen Kurdish forces advance to the point where they now control almost all the territory the Kurds consider disputed. This new reality on the ground gives the Kurds the upper hand in negotiations with the Iraqi government over the final status of the disputed territories and may, in fact, make a final resolution easier to come by.

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