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xiii Preface When I first traveled to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq in 1992 it was to analyze the controversial election outcomes that created the first Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). Socioeconomic conditions at that time were as unstable as the newly created parliament. There was no food in the markets, no salaries for civil servants, and no facilities in which to resettle the hundreds of thousands of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the region. The Kurdish peshmerga (militia) had just descended from its mountain strongholds after decades of fighting against the central government and rival Kurdish parties. A culture of Kalashnikovs still permeated the streets and bazaars. No one would have imagined back then that the isolated and unstable Kurdistan Region would have become one of the most viable areas of the country. Nor could it have been realistically envisioned that the once unrecognized KRG would have assumed a key role in keeping Iraq together and ensuring regional stability. Had the Kurdish north remained in the civil war that shook the region from 1994 to 1998, then the contemporary political and economic situation probably would have been easier to explain. Most perplexing are the changes that have occurred in the region and the contradictions they pose to popular discourses about an independent and highly autonomous Kurdistan. Many people saw—and still see—the creation of a safe haven and subsequent development processes as a precursor to Kurdish statehood. They interpreted the “booming” post-Saddam Kurdistan Region as one that would eventually become self-sustaining and not need to remain attached to the dysfunctional Iraqi state. Underlying this view is the assumption that Kurdish state-building is a linear process, a function of unchanging and deep-rooted nationalist sentiment, or causally related to the weak Iraqi central government. xiv | Preface This image of Kurdish nationalism and state building comes into question, however, when focusing on the political economy of post-conflict regions and the realities of quasi-state survival. In post-Saddam Iraq, where social, economic, and political transformations have given the KRG new rights, recognition, and revenues, the Kurdish nationalist agenda coincides with the overriding need for development and stability. The Kurds must now choose between electricity and independence, international legitimacy and pan-Kurdish nationalism, and external patronage and extended territorial claims. Their political decisions are no longer largely driven by nationalist fervor, but by how to keep borders to their landlocked region continuously open and protected, how to attract international investment, and how to pacify the increasingly disgruntled local populations demanding basic services and good governance. The more I heard and read about “potential Kurdish statehood,” the more I wanted to explain the emergence and sustainability of the Kurdish quasi-state over time. Rooted in wishful thinking or misplaced fear, and linked to outdated stereotypes and nationalist jargon, the independent statehood discourse discounted the important changes that had occurred in the region and their impact on promoting or constraining stability. Not surprisingly, misunderstandings about the Kurdish quasi-state and its place in Iraq festered. While acknowledging historical legacies and ethno-nationalist sentiment that have shaped the Kurdistan Region over time, this book focuses on external factors, and particularly on foreign aid, as providing the necessary foundation to create and sustain Kurdish quasi-statehood. Part of this influence certainly has been negative. During my tenure as information officer for the US Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) in Iraqi Kurdistan during the early 1990s, I saw the unintentional consequences of foreign aid on the local political economy: imbalances in the distribution of resources, power struggles between rival groups, competition for revenues, and civil war. In many cases the most needy never even received aid, and if they did, it was only temporarily, before they sold their goods in the bazaar. Still, the generous nature of external aid to the Kurdistan Region over time created numerous opportunity structures that encouraged stability and set the groundwork for political and economic development . Had foreign assistance not been continuously available to willing aid recipients, the postwar trajectory of the Kurdistan Region may have had a very different outcome. Preface | xv The focus on the role of external aid comes at a time of criticisms of U.S. intervention in Iraq and debates about U.S. troop withdrawal from the country. By taking a detailed and deep look at the spoils of peace in the Kurdish north, this book challenges the notion of the futility of U.S. intervention and shows some of...


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