Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

Representing Kurdistan

Erbil citadel, Kurdistan Region of Iraq Erbil citadel, Kurdistan Region of Iraq Sadik Gulec
14 Jul
The Kurdistan Regional Government is a federal region of Iraq, but also represents the possible beginnings of an independent nation. Geographical meets the diplomat who represents the KRG in the UK

Buckingham Palace may be just over the road from the Kurdistan Regional Government’s representation in the UK, but the KRG’s representation is somewhat more discreet. There’s no flag outside the office. It’s an embassy that’s not an embassy.

The KRG holds executive power over the Kurdistan region in Iraq. It’s sort-of-an-independent nation with its own parliament, plans for economic development in the region, military forces (the Peshmerga are heavily involved in fighting with the Islamic State), and an agenda for developing the country.

For the moment, the KRG aspires to be an autonomous region within Iraq. ‘The problem is that the Iraqis do not understand federalism,’ says Karawn Tahir, the KRG High Representative to the UK. ‘We want to work within the constitution, but the central authority takes credit for our achievements without representing us.’

Tahir points to recent international meetings about the fight against the Islamic State as an example. The KRG has a long border exposed to confrontation with IS, but ‘the Iraqi government exclude us from the conferences,’ he says.

Iraq’s constitution theoretically establishes a federal structure for the country, and although it was approved by almost 80 per cent of the electorate, it is often ignored. This means there are problems for Kurdistan, especially in developing oil resources in the region. ‘The central government want the oil laws passed first, and then to deal with the constitutional issues, but we see the need for the constitution to be functioning before oil laws are passed,’ says Tahir.

Screen Shot 2015-07-10 at 11.22.43Kurdistan Regional Government (Image: Google Maps)

Despite the ambiguous relationship with Iraq’s central government, the KRG continues to do business with the world, including a substantial amount with UK companies, according to Tahir.

For Tahir, everything changed for the KRG after the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which removed Saddam Hussein from power. ‘For us this was a liberation,’ he says. Under Hussein, the Kurdistan region had been subject to several vicious attempts to ethnically cleanse the population, including the notorious Anfal campaign. ‘We have lived with the Arabs for many, many years and they understand much of our culture, not everything. We still need our autonomy.’

After Hussein’s government fell from power, the KRG enjoyed more freedom to operate, but finding a place in the disorder of modern Iraq remains difficult. ‘We always talk about Kurdistan, not about Kurds. We mean to represent all the people who live here. The Kurds, the Sunni, the Arabs, the Christians, the Yazidis,’ says Tahir as he lists the groups that make up the region. ‘It is a mosaic, and it is this mosaic that the Islamic State wants to smash.’

The KRG also keeps the Foreign and Commonwealth Office up-to-date with events in the region, concentrates on high-level representation with various governments, and helps politicians and policy makers understand the area better. In the long term, the KRG might become the nucleus for an independent state, but for now the focus is on building discreet, high-level links.

Related items

Subscribe to Geographical!

geo line break v3

Free eBooks - Geographical Newsletter

Sign up for our weekly newsletter today and get a FREE eBook collection!

geo line break v3

University of Winchester

geo line break v3


Aberystwyth University University of Greenwich The University of Derby




Travel the Unknown


Like longer reads? Try our in-depth dossiers that provide a comprehensive view of each topic

  • Natural Capital: Putting a price on nature
    Natural capital is a way to quantify the value of the world that nature provides for us – the air, soils, water, even recreational activity. Advocat...
    The human game – tackling football’s ‘slave trade’
    Few would argue with football’s position as the world’s number one sport. But as Mark Rowe discovers, this global popularity is masking a sinister...
    Essential oil?
    Palm oil is omnipresent in global consumption. But in many circles it is considered the scourge of the natural world, for the deforestation and habita...
    The air that we breathe
    Cities the world over are struggling to improve air quality as scandals surrounding diesel car emissions come to light and the huge health costs of po...
    Mexico City: boom town
    Twenty years ago, Mexico City was considered the ultimate urban disaster. But, recent political and economic reforms have transformed it into a hub of...


NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.