What To Know About The Independence Referendum In Iraqi KurdistanNational Public Radio,
Have the Kurds ever had their own country?
When the Ottoman Empire was dissolved after World War I, Kurds demanded their own state, but hundreds of thousands were expelled from their traditional areas and dispersed to other parts of Turkey instead.
After World War II, the Soviet Union backed a Kurdish self-governing state in what is now Iran. That state, the Republic of Mahabad, lasted less than a year.
The most autonomy Kurds have had since then is in Iraq. In the three northern Kurdish provinces, Kurds control the land borders with neighboring countries, elect their own parliament, maintain their own security forces (known as the peshmerga) and draft their own laws.
What was the U.S. role in helping to create modern Iraqi Kurdistan?
After Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, the U.S. formed a coalition to drive him out in 1991. The Kurds (and Iraqi Shiites in the south) rose up against him.
The Iraqi army attacked the north, and more than 1 million Kurds fled their homes and tried to escape over the mountains in winter. Thousands died.
That year, the U.N. Security Council approved a U.S.-led no-fly zone preventing Iraqi planes from flying over the north and south of Iraq. In 1992, Iraqi Kurds established their own regional government.
The decade that followed was a tough time. The Iraqi government punished the Kurds with trade sanctions, and the Kurdish region was included in an international trade embargo against Iraq.
After 2003, when Saddam was toppled, Kurds started rebuilding and foreign investment poured in.
Why do Iraqis Kurds insist on independence?
Most Kurds say they will never feel safe as part of Iraq.
From 1986 to 1988, Iraqi forces destroyed thousands of Kurdish villages in a campaign by Saddam's Arab Socialist Baath party to "Arabize" northern Iraq. At a conservative estimate, more than 100,000 Kurds were killed. Chemical gas attacks in the town of Halabja in 1988 killed thousands of women and children.