The Kurds are a non-Arab, traditionally nomadic people. Following the breakup of the Ottoman empire they sought but failed to establish the state of Kurdistan, covering a region that overlaps Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria. Most Kurds are Sunni Muslim but differ from their Arab neighbors in language, dress, and customs.

Kurdish restiveness in Iraq has led to a near civil war in 1961 and uprisings in 1982, 1988 and again after the 1991 Gulf war. The Kurds were encouraged to rise up against Saddam in 1991, but did not receive military support from the allies. The Iraqis regrouped and quashed the rebellion, and more than 1 million Kurds fled the country. The U.S. responded with "Operation Provide Comfort," a security and humanitarian campaign that resulted in the establishment of no-fly zones over Iraqi Kurdistan.

The Kurdish area is a microcosm of the rest of Iraq, with political factions ranging from communists to Islamic purists and an ethnic mix that includes Turkomans, Christian Assyrians, Yazidis and Arabs. It is also a completely different reality, one where the Kurdish factions can choose to hammer out their differences in hundreds of independent newspapers, magazines and journals and dozens of television and radio stations and, most significantly, a lively parliament.