Is the Iraq-Kurdistan’s referendum a declaration of war against Iran and Turkey? Or another catastrophe for the Kurds?

By Farhang Faraydoon Namdar and Aran Ghafoor Ahmad

Iraqi Kurdistan will hold an independence referendum in 25th  September, 2017. This has divvied the Kurdish public opinion, some saying it is a historical decision and therefore we should vote YES and these people are mostly biased towards KDP and geographically reside in the capital, Erbil and governorate of Duhok. On the contrary, some others do not approve the referendum and say they will vote NO. There are various reasons behind this division which we will enunciate the critical points.

YES voters as mentioned above, are mostly supporters of Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). In the recent years this party has demanded an independence referendum for some of its wants. Despite, the party has most of the pillar of government in control. President of Kurdistan, Masoud Barzani who his term has expired and refuses to cede his authority, and the prime minister of Kurdistan, Nechirvan Barzani who is nephew of Masoud Barzani. In addition, president of Security Council of Kurdistan is Masroor Barzani who is son of Masoud Barzani. With a party decision Parliament of Kurdistan has been closed for nearly two years, and they KDP do not allow president of parliament (Gorran Movement) to go back to parliament and resume the parliament affairs. This was because Parliament tried to amend the presidency law, moreover, four ministers (Gorran members) are not allowed to return back to Erbil, in which two of them hold very crucial ministries which are ministry of Finance and Peshmarga (Ministery of War) despite,. In addition, ministers and general managers have no actual authority if they are not members of KDP and the courts are manipulated in accordance with their interests leaving the courts having no authority to make decisions. Despite all these undemocratic, autocratic and authoritarian actions, a financial crisis has struck the region. No governmental employee can know when wages and salaries are distributed, in advance alongside only thirty percent of the salaries and wages is distributed. Most of the basic utilities and facilities are nonexistence or malfunctioned. For example, electricity is roughly 10 hours a day. High unemployment rate among the youth, many with high educational degrees and even those who are employed have a very poorly paid and the wage ratios are adjusted from 30% to 75% and even that is not regularly distributed.

On the contrary, many people who claim for NO and state that we should vote NO and are mostly located in the governorates of Sulaymanyah and Halabja which are known for their expression of freedom and justice. This doesn’t mean that these cities are against the referendum and most of the Kurdish uprisings and political movements have initiated in these two cities. There many other problems regardless of those mentioned above.

First, lack of sufficient information about the referendum and till now it is not clear how the independent Kurdistan’s political system would be, will it be presidential or parliamentary? Will the new state be an Islamic or a civic state? Some unofficial sources imply that the system will no change. Though people of the region has seen the current governments performance during the last 25 years, and they say it is has failed to accomplish its goals and demand ultimate reform and change. Day by day the situation gets worse and worse and this has led to the idea that the referendum is not a serious issue and it result would not be reaped and KDP uses it to gain more support in the coming elections.

Second, internationally no state has expressed its support for the referendum and many states including United States of America, Russia, Turkey, Iran and many EU members demand the referendum be postponed and even some are against it, especially Turkey, Iran and Iraq which are bordered with the region and closure of borders on Kurdistan by these states might lead to a dangerous humanitarian crisis because the sole income of KRG is from exporting oil (has no transparent revenue) and local production is close to zero. Furthermore, the government promised that it would subsidize the economy from oil incomes by exporting it to western states, however with discovering massive amounts of oil and natural gas in Svalbard (Norway) and South China Sea, which closer and cheaper to oil importing countries, this policy does not seem astute and most oil-rich states try to diversify their economies. In addition, it has failed and the government can’t afford basic subsidizations. Since the government have no other incomes it is possible in the long-run the ‘new state’ would not survive and if KRG tries to industrialize and be complacent it would be too late for now. Most of water supplies of Kurdistan come from Iran and Turkey (fierce dissidents of the referendum) and they have constructed many bays on these water sources. Thus, any sanctions from these states would have instant repercussions, for example recently Iran opened a bay on Little Zab River and damaged more than 80 thousand people and agricultural plots.  United Nations stated that they would not monitor the referendum with Iraq’s consent and Iran would never do that.

Third, Iraq and Kurdistan share a large area known as the disputed areas, which compose 52% of Kurdistan geography, these areas are parts of Kirkuk, Shingal, Jalawla, Talaafar and some other areas. It has been years that no agreement is reached over these territories and these areas have massive deposits of oil, especially Kirkuk which more than half of Kurdistan oil export is from Kirkuk and without Kirkuk the post-referendum Kurdistan might not be able to stand on its feet. These areas are administered by the Iraqi government and the Kurds really care about these areas and have given thousands of martyrs for these areas and as Jalal Talabani calls it the Jerusalem of Kurdistan. Moreover these areas the only strong relationship between Iraq and Kurdistan if not there is no dependence on Baghdad at all and tensions rose when Masoud Barzani publicly labeled Iraq as Nuri El- Maliki as corrupt and authoritarian. Kurdistan have acted independently, so without settling the disputed areas achieving independence is impossible.

Finally, Kurdistan is politically and militarily divided and most people in Kurdistan live in a tribal society and this makes Kurdistan very inclined towards war. One of the main reason behind the referendum is ending the long and historical conflict in the region, and this is what, most western states are trying to achieve which they failed to, roughly a hundred years earlier (Sykes- Picot agreement). However, despite two main armed forces, belonging to KDP and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) there are personal paramilitary forces as well, which are under direct command of these people. This implies that there is no sovereignty in Kurdistan and its situation is very fragile that any conflict in the independent state might escalate to a civil war, thus in a case of civil war other regional powers can ally with one side and then turning Kurdistan into a puppet state. Therefore, an independent Kurdistan would be very prone to conflict and war and western democracies would not want such a state that would further destabilize the region and Middle East generally.

To sum up, no Kurd is against Kurdish independence and with many obstacles both internationally and domestically the post-referendum Kurdistan might not bring peace to the region and the long dream of the Kurds which they are fighting for it for centuries. Given these reasons the new state might be a failed and in worst case war-torn state.  After all, nowadays many Kurds (many of which are young people) have migrated to developed countries and this proves they want a good life rather than a stated which can’t provide electricity.

Farhang Faraydoon Namdar is an engineer and a student of Politics and International Relations in University of Sulaymaniyah. He is translated political books from English to Kurdish. Activist and writer about political situations in Middle East. Aran Ghafoor Ahmad is a student of Politics and International Relations in University of Sulaymanyah. He translates political and diplomatic books from English to Kurdish. He is an activist and writer about Kurdistan politics.

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Foreign Policy News is a self-financed initiative providing a venue and forum for political analysts and experts to disseminate analysis of major political and business-related events in the world, shed light on particulars of U.S. foreign policy from the perspective of foreign media and present alternative overview on current events affecting the international relations.

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