Developments over the past year in Syria and Iraq suggest many parallels between the two countries. From the separatism of the Kurds and the fight against the self-declared Islamic State to the expansion of Russia’s presence and influence, the two states seem to be following similar trajectories. But a closer look suggests quite distinct realities. Syria clearly seems to be headed toward implosion, even if the bigger picture of chaos obscures at least one smaller one that could inspire optimism for the future. By contrast, Iraq’s narrative today is not one-dimensional—in fact, the signs point in many directions: The country is neither unraveling nor making great progress toward reconciliation and stability.
Iraq’s Kurdish region has been essentially self-governing since the early 1990s, and overall the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) has been a great success, expanding economic opportunity and demonstrating to the rest of Iraq a culture of political competition and contestation. It even moved beyond the entrenched two-party system historically dominated by Barzani’s Kurdish Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, with the emergence in 2009 of a reformist party called Gorran—which means Change in Kurdish—on an anti-corruption platform. Gorran is now the second-largest party in the KRG.
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