Alexey Sinitsin, Head Expert of the American-Azerbaijani Progress Promotion Foundation
The article was written on the platform of the online conference “Referendum in the Kurdish Autonomy of Iraq: Realities and the Future” orqanised by Internatinal online analytical center Ethnoglobus (ethnoglobus.az) (Azerbaijan) and the American-Turkish resource “Turkishforum” (turkishnews.com) (USA).
On September 25, Iraqi Kurds will head to the polls not only in Iraqi Kurdistan, but also in territories disputed between Erbil and Baghdad to vote in a referendum on whether Iraqi Kurdistan should become independent. Nobody waits any surprise. Everything is solved. As the Book says, “meneh, tekel, upharsin”. During a previous, non-binding referendum in 2005, almost 99% of Kurds voted in favor of independence. Nothing has changed. Kurds will vote overwhelmingly in favor of independence.
A Kurdish Regional Government has existed in northern Iraq since 1992, when its territory was protected by a US-led no-fly zone after the first Gulf War. Now, after helping to defeat Islamic State, the Kurds want to form their own nation and their own state, in fact, on the Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Syria territories.
However, point is that Kurd’s power has very important intrinsic causes to hold a referendum. Local economic experts agree that the Kurdish market is off balance, with the Kurdistan market’s consumption far outpacing its production, in part due to a lack of robust manufacturing and service industries, agricultural output, and tourism. Since February 2016 the public sector in Kurdistan has protested corruption and unpaid wages. These demonstrations have now incorporated demands for KRG leaders to step down and dissolve the government. And although these are civil protests, members of the security forces and Peshmerga are also participating. Even Erbil—a traditional bastion of stability—has experienced protests. So I think the referendum is a good opportunity of switching the public, national consciousness to another subject.
But let’s make up our mind to understand if the referendum will lead to an “Independent Kurdish State”. I don’t think so. In any case, it won’t happen in visible prospects. Firstly, there are lots of political, tribal, religious, and even mental contradictions. Really Curds are at variance with each other, and a lot of experts consider that Curds parties and movements are on the brink of civil war. Secondly, neighbours of Curds strongly object against holding this referendum because they apprehend that such an action will give moral support to their local Curds.
Turkey, which is battling a three-decade Kurdish insurgency in its southeast, is concerned the referendum could further stoke separatist sentiment among the 15 million Kurds in Turkey. Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu visited Iraq, where he conveyed to Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani Ankara’s concerns about the decision to hold the referendum, planned for Sept. 25. But Turkish nationalist leader Devlet Bahceli says Iraqi Kurdish referendum a potential reason for war.
Of course, Iran is afraid of holding of referendum by expecting the Irania Curds’ government actions. Iran also has additional reasons to block Kurdish independence. The Kurds of Iraq control key border regions with Iran and Syria, regions which Iran plans to dominate to create a land-corridor from Iran to the Mediterranean, thought Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. I think it’s very important that the chief of staff of Iran’s armed forces, General Mohammad Hossein Baqeri, made a rare visit to Ankara. On the agenda was Iran and Turkey’s joint military opposition to Kurdish independence.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has opposed the referendum from the start, fearing the impact on the Kurds in Syria. His top priority in Syria is to stop the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) that yave been moving to the South. The YPG is Washington’s Syrian partner of choice and also aligned with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). (Though the United States consider the PKK a terrorist organization). Al-Assad and Moscow are sure that YPG are the most efficient troops that are ready successfully to resist to Syrian government forces and even win them within the territory of the “Syrian Kurdistan”. I remark while the KRG does not support the YPG in public, and is a rival of the PKK, both the YPG and the PKK are popular with many Iraqi Kurds and their political movements.
The United States, other Western nations, Russia and China are also worried that the vote could ignite a fresh conflict with Baghdad and turn into another regional flashpoint. Turkey, Iran and Syria, which together with Iraq have sizeable Kurdish populations, all oppose an independent Kurdistan.
Hoever, “The date is standing, Sept. 25, no change,” said Hoshyar Zebari, a close adviser to Kurdistan Regional Government President Massoud Barzani, after U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson asked Barzani to postpone the referendum.
So I don’t doubt that the Kurds referendum will be held on 25 Sept. Many experts consider that the Kurdish divorce from Iraq will be more akin to Sudan and South Sudan; Ethiopia and Eritrea; or Serbia and Kosovo rather than the Czech Republic and Slovakia. It’s impossible because the Iraqi Kurds are not going to proclaim their real independence in the day after Kurdish referendum. There are too many risks and challenges for all Iraqi Kurds but not only Barzani. I’ve said the “Independent Kurdistan” would be able to become the reality only in rather remote future.