The collapse of the Ottoman Empire brought about significant changes for the political structure of the Middle East. The Kurds emerged as one of the largest ethnic groups striving for independence. However, Kurdish efforts at independence failed despite periods of significant opportunity. This thesis aims to address why Iraqi Kurds have failed to establish an independent state. Three main theoretical explanations are offered: the degree of internal cohesion, external recognition, and balances of power. The theoretical explanations are considered in the context of historical periods of opportunity, primarily focused on the post-Ottoman period, post-1991 Gulf War, and post-2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. Analysis of Kurdish history reveals that no single factor was responsible for the lack of Kurdish independence. Instead, internal cohesion is interdependent with external recognition and regional balances of power. Kurdish internal fragmentation negatively impacted efforts for independence, which was reinforced by proxy relationships and the interests of other states. Furthermore, strategic interests of powers such as Britain and the United States undermined the Iraqi Kurds’ ability to attain external recognition. In the most recent era since 2003, Iraqi Kurds have made significant strides toward increased autonomy. However, the historical factors of internal fragmentation, regional balance of power, and lack of external recognition continue to undermine independence.
Baylouny, Anne M.
Security Studies (Middle East, South Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa)
Naval Postgraduate School
Master of Arts in Security Studies (Middle East, South Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa)
National Security Affairs (NSA)
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