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Syrian conflict threatens to fracture Iraq

Semi-autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan and the central Iraqi government are on a collision course as the Kurds increasingly side with the Syrian opposition and Baghdad stands by the Assad regime. 

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A Kurdish Peshmerga soldier holds a Kurdistan flag in August during a deployment in the area near the northern Iraqi border with Syria, which lies in an area disputed by Baghdad and the Kurdish region of Ninawa province.

Azad Lashkari/Reuters/File

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In September, as the Iraqi government reached one of its lowest points in relations with Turkey in years, Ankara welcomed Iraqi Kurdistan's President Massoud Barzani as a guest of honor at a convention hosted by the ruling Justice and Development Party

The semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq and the federal government in Baghdad have not seen eye to eye for years, and the gap between the two is now widening, particularly when it comes to foreign policy. That's been put in stark relief by the ongoing civil war in Syria, which has shifted the fortunes of Iraq's Kurds. 

A decade ago, Iraq was a Sunni Arab-dominated dictatorship that shared many problems with the Sunni Turks to the north. Both countries had restive ethnic-Kurdish separatist movements and uneasy relations with their Shiite and Persian neighbor, Iran.

Today, Iraq has a Shiite-dominated government that is close to Tehran, which is supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime in Syria's civil war. Turkey, still eager to prevent Kurdish separatist sentiments within its borders, now sees the Iraqi Kurds as a potential ally in opposition to the interests of Iran, Baghdad and Damascus.

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