September 21, 2013 - 12:58 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - Iraqi Kurds went to the polls on Saturday to vote for a new parliament at a time when their oil-producing region is seeking greater autonomy from Baghdad, against a backdrop of violent instability in the rest of Iraq and the wider Middle East, Reuters reported.
The Kurds have managed to insulate their region against the violence that afflicts the rest of Iraq, attracting investment from some of the world's largest companies, including ExxonMobil and Total.
In recent years, the Kurdish government has warned it is prepared to divorce Arab Iraq, and is now laying the final stretch of an oil export pipeline to Turkey that could in theory give the region the financial means to stand alone.
That has put the self-ruled region at odds with the Iraqi central government, which says it has sole authority to control the country's vast crude resources and wants power to remain centralized in Baghdad.
"The strategic stakes are extraordinarily high," said Ramzy Mardini at the Beirut-based Iraq Institute for Strategic Studies. "The 2013-2017 government in Arbil will be responsible for the most significant decisions for the Iraqi Kurds in a quarter century."
Iraqi Kurds take great pride in having held the country's first ever democratic election in 1992 after former dictator Saddam Hussein withdrew his forces from the northern enclave.
The political arena has since been dominated by two parties - the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) - which share power having fought out their rivalries in a civil war during the 1990s.
The two ruling parties are widely expected to preserve their majority in parliament and continue their alliance, which would likely mean no major shifts in policy. President Masoud Barzani is leader of the KDP, and his nephew Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani also belongs to the party.