A Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) fighters guards a post in Makhmur, southwest Irbil Aug. 21, 2014. (AFP/Ahmad al-Rubaye)
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Iraq's Kurdish region has been autonomous since 1991 and has played a major role in the war against militants.Situated in the rugged, mountainous north of Iraq, the oil-rich region is home to nearly 4.7 million people.Officially comprising Irbil, Dahuk and Sulaimaniyah provinces, Iraqi Kurdistan also claims other territory including oil-rich Kirkuk province – a dispute that is a major source of contention with Baghdad.It had gained de facto autonomy after the 1991 Gulf War over Kuwait when Western powers intervened to protect Kurds against an onslaught by the forces of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein that led hundreds of thousands to flee to neighboring countries.
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