Since 2011, The Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, has offered scholarships for up to 4,000 students to study abroad in the UK, US and Europe.
One of the 4,000 is Nzar Abdullah, who is from the city of Erbil and has come to Nottingham to study Engineering. After his two years in the UK he will go back to Kurdistan and work for the government that is currently overseeing a booming construction sector and economy.
After the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, the Kurds in the north began to build up their infrastructure. This has led to the region attracting a large amount of foreign investment with the likes of Exxon, Total, Chevron, Hunt Oil, and John Deere arriving to explore. There are now 25 consulates, and 2 international airports that link Kurdistan with the rest of the world.
Crucially, there are now 7 universities in Kurdistan, all of which are developing links to other universities across the world. The building of this international, educational infrastructure reflects the growing confidence and capability within the Kurdish authorities.
Mohammed Arf is another Kurd studying engineering at Nottingham. He finds that there are more similarities than differences between education here in Nottingham and urban Kurdish universities. Mohammed Arf told Impact that the major difference is the cost. It is free to study at Kurdish universities.
Mohammed is most animated when speaking about the future of his home: “I hope for more democracy and freedom as well as complete separation from Iraq,” he argues.
This is an ideal that is shared by the majority of the population of Kurdistan.
However, Kurdish leaders have had to consider the geopolitics of independence. Kurdistan does not just have a singular problematic neighbour but a family of them. Syria to the west is slowly disintegrating into what Iraq was in 2006. Iran to the east is currently experiencing the bitter bite of economic sanctions and international condemnation over its nuclear programme. While Turkey to the north is fighting the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers Party, an armed independence group branded terrorists by the EU and Turkey.
In such a region, Kurdish leaders try to play one side off against the other behind the cloak of Iraqi impunity.
For all the great strides that have been made, the Kurds still require the world’s attention. The increasingly authoritarian Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki has threatened to invade the KRG over border disputes and oil rights. The fighting that has erupted in much of the Arab world threatens to spill over borders that are essentially lines in the sand.