While it has historically been the scene of some of Iraq's worst troubles, the Kurdish people who inhabit much of Northern Iraq have provided hope for Iraqi democracy as well as military support to the coalition during "Operation Iraqi Freedom."

For years, Saddam Hussein's government displaced minority groups living in oil-rich areas such as this in order to consolidate control and spread Arab character. Since the 1991 Gulf War, Iraq's Kurds, which make up 15-20 percent of the population, have fled such cities as Kirkuk and Mosul for the northern no-fly zone. Here they have been free to run their own affairs under Western protection.

The two largest Kurdish factions were adversaries until the past few years, but are now pledged to work together in a democracy. One serious problem that still plagues the north is the potential for Turkish-Kurdish conflict. Turkey has repeatedly voiced concerns that the Kurds might gain control of key cities here, resulting in a separate state. That, Ankara says, might inspire Kurdish rebels in southeastern Turkey.

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Sources: Associated Press, CIA, Federation of American Scientists, The Military Balance 2002-2003, The International Institute for Strategic Studies, London