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The 2017 independence referendum and the political economy of Kurdish nationalism in Iraq

Degli Esposti, Nicola (2021) The 2017 independence referendum and the political economy of Kurdish nationalism in Iraq. Third World Quarterly, 42 (10). 2317 - 2333. ISSN 0143-6597

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Identification Number: 10.1080/01436597.2021.1949978


In September 2017, the Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq held a referendum for independence despite the high likelihood of heavy retaliation. In contrast to the narrative that presents that decision as the result of gross miscalculation, this article offers an alternative explanation highlighting the role played by Kurdish nationalism in upholding the structures of power of the region. The current class structure, institutional framework and rentier economy of Iraqi Kurdistan had their origins in the 1990s when Kurdish forces gained permanent control of the region. The new ruling class that developed in that decade had a profoundly extractive character and based its power on a strategy of appropriation of the public resources pursued through the control of the political institutions and security forces. The 2017 independence referendum must be understood as an attempt to thwart the threat to this social arrangement represented by a wave of popular protests. These events reveal the profound connection between Kurdish nationalism and the region’s class structure. They also allow us to appreciate the–often neglected–political agency of the subaltern classes in a rentier society.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2021 The Author
Divisions: International Relations
Subjects: J Political Science > JQ Political institutions Asia
Date Deposited: 12 Aug 2021 11:15
Last Modified: 17 Nov 2021 01:09

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