News Analysis |
Masoud Barzani, Iraq’s Kurdish leader has claimed victory in a referendum on independence held on Monday amid threats from Baghdad to take over the region’s borders and a demand from Turkey to “give up or go hungry”. They have also threatened to take steps to cripple its economy.
The Kurds have ruled over an autonomous region within Iraq since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein. The referendum announcement was condemned by most countries, including USA, UK, France, and Arab countries. Israel was one of the few countries that has supported the referendum. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has endorsed an independent Kurdistan.
Last week he said “support the legitimate efforts of the Kurdish people to achieve a state of their own.”
More than 92% of voters in Iraqi Kurdistan have opted for independence, according to election monitors, in an overwhelming endorsement of a proposed split from Baghdad that has sparked increasing threats of air and land blockades that could be imposed as early as Friday.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned that the referendum on support for independence for Iraqi Kurdistan next door risks sparking an “ethnic war” in the region. He has warned Barzani that history would not forgive him.
“If Barzani and the Kurdish regional government do not go back on this mistake as soon as possible, they will go down in history with the shame of having dragged the region into an ethnic and sectarian war,”
An estimated 30m Kurds live in the region split between, Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran. With the largest number in Turkey. The KRG region has bilateral trade with Turkey worth over $10billion – which Erdogan has threatened to rip apart and starve them.
Read more: The Kurdish Kaleidoscope
While it has been met with enthusiasm by the Kurdish diaspora all over the world, Baghdad government and Iraq’s Arab population have expressed their concerns that areas voting in the referendum include Kirkuk, an ethnically mixed and oil-rich province. Increasing unrest there in recent days has led to worries that the result could lead to Arab-Kurdish violence.
Speaking after Erdoğan’s comments and an address by the Iraqi prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, Barzani appealed for “peace and dialogue”.
Turkey and Iran have amassed troops on their borders with Iraq’s Kurdish region while Iraqi troops are in Turkey for a joint exercise with the latter. Though quick secession of Kurdistan from Iraq is not a possibility
“We assure the international community that we are committed to a dialogue process with Baghdad,” he said. “Threats will solve nothing.” Despite the calls for dialogue by Barzani, this referendum will flare up tensions in the already war-torn region.
Since the Islamic State’s blitzkrieg and the Syrian civil war, Kurds have gained territory and have accumulated unprecedented power. The US support to Kurds in both Syria and Iraq has enabled them to consolidate these gains.
While it has been met with enthusiasm by the Kurdish diaspora all over the world, Baghdad and Iraq’s Arab population have expressed their concerns that areas voting in the referendum include Kirkuk, an ethnically mixed and oil-rich province
Many observers are of the view that the recent referendum in Iraq’s Kurdish region has been held with the tacit approval of USA and Russia since both powers have much to gain from an independent Kurdistan. President Putin recently held talks with Mr. Barzani in Moscow in which the former promised economic support for Iraq’s autonomous region.
Turkey and Iran have amassed troops on their borders with Iraq’s Kurdish region while Iraqi troops are in Turkey for a joint exercise. Though quick secession of Kurdistan from Iraq is not a possibility, this referendum has the potential to off-set the uneasy peace between Kurds and the countries they inhabit. Middle East which is already grappling with the onslaught of IS cannot afford another conflict between Kurds and Arabs, Turks or Iranians.