As you walk around the streets of this city of 500,000, you could be forgiven for thinking you’re in the capital of a small but up-and-coming Middle Eastern country. Police officers and soldiers sport the national flag on their uniforms — the same flag that flies proudly on public buildings, and, in a giant version, from a towering pole in the center of town. There’s a national anthem, which you might hear on the national evening TV news, broadcast solely in the local language. You’ll also notice imposing buildings for parliament and the prime minister, as well as the diplomatic missions of a number of foreign states, some of them offering visas.
Yet appearances deceive: This is not an independent state. You’re in Iraq — more precisely, the part of northern Iraq known officially as the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). You’ll be reminded of this fact when you open your wallet to pay for something: the local currency is still the Iraqi dinar (though the U.S. dollar circulates widely). Nor do any of the foreign governments that maintain consulates in Erbil recognize Kurdish statehood; nor, for that matter, does the government of the KRG itself. For the time being, Iraqi Kurdistan is still under Baghdad’s writ.
Emphasis on “for the time being.” In July of last year, KRG President Massoud Barzani asked his parliament to start preparing for a referendum on independence. It was a suitably dramatic response to the stunning disintegration of the Iraqi state under then-Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Earlier, in January 2014, Maliki’s government had cut off financial transfers to the Kurds as part of a fight over control of oil resources, enraging Erbil even as his repressive policies toward Iraq’s Sunni Arabs were fueling the dramatic rise of the Islamic State (IS). Last summer, after IS forces shocked the world by seizing control of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, the jihadists pushed from there deep into Kurdish territory, at one point getting within 25 miles of Erbil.
Kurdish forces have driven Islamic State (IS) militants from Kobane, officials say, ending a four-month battle for the northern Syrian town.
Fighters from the Popular Protection Units (YPG) were said to have entered outlying areas in the east of the town after the jihadists retreated.
The US said anti-IS forces were in control of 90% of the town.
Kobane was seen as a major test of the US-led coalition’s strategy to combat IS in Syria with air strikes.
Tens of thousands of people fled over the nearby border with Turkey after IS launched an offensive in September, capturing about 300 nearby villages before entering the predominantly Kurdish town itself.
The fighting has left at least 1,600 people dead, among them 1,196 jihadists, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says.