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127 Conclusions Sustaining the Kurdish Quasi-State This detailed case study reveals that the transition of the unrecognized Kurdistan Region to a quasi-state is more complex than symbolic nation building or the will of the people to be apart from the central government. Rather, it is a by-product of international aid of which the “benefits of stalemate” are derived— recognition, legitimacy, and development. External aid channeled to Iraqi Kurds after the 1990 Persian Gulf War as victims of Saddam Hussein opened avenues for economic recovery, reconstruction, and reform. Security assistance has been an essential component of this support because it helped create an environment of relative stability in which humanitarian aid and future development programs could be implemented. The trajectory of the Kurdish quasi-state further indicates that it is not only the presence of external aid but its continuity over time that can encourage post-conflict recovery and rehabilitation. Each phase of the aid program has built upon previous periods and provided the groundwork for current development processes. Short-term relief assistance of the first aid period helped alleviate immediate post-conflict needs, resettle populations, and build new political institutions. A more expansive aid regime during the OFFP period, alongside sustained security assistance, played a key role in mediating conflict and encouraging ongoing stability, confidence building, income generation, and entrepreneurship . Personal wealth generated during the OFFP period became the impetus for the hotels, supermarkets, and modern buildings constructed in the Kurdistan Region after 2003. Long-term infrastructure development in post-Saddam Iraq could not have emerged without this economic foundation, as well as liberalization policies and mechanisms for regional autonomy. Had international support 128 | The Kurdish Quasi-State for the Kurds been interrupted during any one of these phases, the spoils of peace in the Kurdistan Region may not necessarily have taken their current form. The key juncture in the Kurdish quasi-state trajectory was 2003. The democracy mission altered the nature of the aid regime and its related opportunity structures by moving away from food and fuel handouts and focusing on capacity building. One of the most significant transformations has been in the regional economy. Commercial exchanges that had minimal impact on the Kurdish transit zone in the prewar period have become an important source of income generation. The very foundations of the Kurdish quasi-state economy have shifted from smuggling to official multi-million-dollar cross-regional trade. Lucrative and complex commercial relations, in turn, have created interdependencies with regional states, particularly Turkey, which has become the major exporter of consumer and luxury goods in the region. Turkish companies, and the military generals who own them, are now directly involved in large-scale construction projects that have been vital to the reconstruction and rehabilitation of the region. A more complex and integrated economy linked to international markets has supported sociopolitical changes as well. Modernization and urbanization trends that were once confined to Baghdad in the prewar period have reached the Kurdistan Region. Few Iraqi Kurds today live in the villages, weave carpets, or engage in agricultural work like their parents did. With more than half the local populations under the age of twenty-five, most have become part of young, educated cadres seeking jobs, higher wages, educational opportunities, and a better way of life in the city centers. Many young populations also continue to their efforts to leave their region, often illegally, to realize a better life in Europe. Urbanization and development processes, however, have been incomplete and uneven, causing new tensions within Kurdish society and politics. Gross discrepancies in wealth have created or reinforced dichotomies between the rich and the poor. Local populations, especially the youth, have responded to these socioeconomic differentials and the conspicuous consumption of the political elites by engaging in new forms of protest. Instead of fighting in the mountains on behalf of the Kurdish nation as their parents did, they have become highly critical of the KRG and the Kurdish political parties, while retaining their sense of Kurdish identity. Many have joined the opposition movement as a way of mobilizing against the government and the traditional party establishment. Conclusions | 129 Despite these political challenges, open spaces encouraged by aid programs have had unintended consequences on the Kurdish national agenda. Kurdish elites have taken advantage of international support by Kurdifying education systems , histories, the media, and territories, which has challenged existing boundaries and created new ones. As recognition and resources for the KRG increased over time, so too did its internal...


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