Iraqi Kurdistan in the brink of an independence referendum and the tumultuous political situation

By Farhang Faraydoon Namdar

Ostensibly  most of the Kurds tend to be  hardliners of their referendum decision, this Tuesday a Kurdish delegation led by Masoud Barzani, president of Kurdistan visited Brussels, for reaping European support for the referendum, however the delegation did not include all the domestic Kurdish political parties, notably Gorran Movement, the second largest party in Kurdistan. A member of Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), Dr. Najmadin Karim – Member of political bureau of PUK – was present in the delegation, although, he was condemned by PUK bedfellows for being present in the delegation – referring to him as representing himself and not PUK – and father figures of the PUK call for abstention in the referendum. With all these internal struggle and obstacles, the Shiite militias claim that the major menace after ISIS are the Kurds. Economy and diplomacy are the cornerstones of modern states, how successful would Iraqi Kurdistan be when put on these criteria.

The Kurds have been stateless for as long as they can reckon, as they proclaim it is their universal right to determine their future and establish their own state, but surprisingly, due to various reasons the two major parties, PUK and Gorran have publicly deprecated the plebiscite, leading to a social and political dissection among the Kurds of Iraqi Kurdistan. The referendum have been vehemently subverted by political and military figures of both PUK and Gorran and they rates of approval for the referendum have plummeted sharply and have called it a pesky move. These all can be traced to the closure of Iraqi Kurdistan’s parliament roughly two years ago, and expulsion of Gorran ministers and parliament members from Erbil, the Iraqi Kurdistan’s capital city resulting in a rift and since then consensus amongst the political parties have never been reached. In addition, PDK the largest political party in Kurdistan demand for dismantling and remodeling the parliament, led to a riotous fiasco that turned into a political stalemate till present day. The domestic political equation complicated further more with Jalal Talabani’s absence from the political arena and left PUK impeded, since then the party cannot effectively make decision and have halted the political process in Kurdistan. Gorran have exploited this for their interests by gravitating pro-Gorran political figures of PUK and Gorran calls for an adjournment of the referendum and demanding the parliament reopened before the plebiscite being held. The likelihood that the referendum will get majority of the votes is quite untenable, as far as, PUK and Gorran call for reforms before the referendum. This would not be a great thing for the Kurds as whole and their reputation internationally. The internecine might not settle soon and a geographical divide may ensue.

Kurdistan being located in the heart of Middle East world’s most contentious region. Iraqi Kurdistan is surrounded by two regional powers, Iran and Turkey as well as, the two Arab states Iraq and Syria – the Syrian side being controlled by the Kurds – the first two are fierce dissidents of the Kurds that have tortured and have infringed the rights of the Kurds for many centuries and in many occasions have used them as war shields especially during Ottomans and Safavid reins. Most if not all destitute states are geographically land-locked meaning that they have no access to the sea, for example, the poorest state in Asia is Afghanistan or Bolivia  which the poorest in south America are land-locked. Iraqi Kurdistan would be a land locked nation and in the case of an independent Kurdistan they ‘new state’ might not be that independent at all, because it has to rely on its neighboring states to perform its economy and currently Iraqi Kurdistan exports its oil through Turkey and this has obliged the Kurds to satisfy the Turkish needs and wants. Kurdistan shares its boarders with its enemies which are Iran, Iraq and Turkey except for Syria boarder that is under control of the Kurds and the Kurds have been divided among these states and local production is almost non-existence which makes Kurdistan to import most of its necessities, including pharmaceuticals, foods and commodities and even exporting benzene and gasoline. It is very likely that these states would embargo and sanction Kurdistan which will eventually makes Kurdistan to agree to their terms and the referendum attempt might result in a blockade by these countries and being independent might not be that different  from the current Iraqi-Kurdistan accept for some state privileges.

Contemporary Iraq is Shiite dominated, this became more apparent when in the last week the last stronghold of ISIS in Iraq and Mosul was freed. Most of the Sunni populated cities are devastated by the Shiites, under the name of freeing these areas from ISIS by a militia forces of Hashd Al Shaabi have proclaimed that the Kurds are the major problem after ISIS. The Shiites have planned for a demographic transformation – replacing Sunnis with Shiites and their plans, influences and ambitions have succeeds quite efficaciously by having Iran backing them. The pro-Iranian wing of Hashd Al Shaabi have repeatedly condemned Peshmarga advancements in the disputed territories. In addition, Kurdish armed forces have been exhausted after fighting for roughly three years without proper ammunition and food against ISIS and they might not endure another war. Given these an independent Kurdish might not score well, in fact, any distinction between and independent state and Iraqi Kurdistan blurs, because Kurdistan Regional Government has acted independently, as recently Kurdistan Regional Government signed a long-term contracted on oil with Russia’s Rosneft and they conduct their foreign relations unilaterally, sometimes disadvantageous to central government’s interest. The only benefit might an independent Kurdistan bring is protecting themselves from aggressive external military threats in shield of sovereignty, although the surrounding states have no reverence for sovereignty and are authoritarian.

With Qatar’s blockade and vagueness politics of Middle East, any hasty political move would have its repercussions and in a second the Kurds long dream might be squashed and suffer other tragedies as they have for centuries.

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. 

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