Sunday , September 24 2023

What will referendum bring for Kurds?

This post has been read 10120 times!

IN a land home to members of myriad different faiths and ethnicities, the answer to this question — when a rational, realistic and conscientious assessment is to be made — is actually quite obvious: Every separation brings with it new and greater problems. Iraq’s territorial integrity being compromised will also spell the suffering of the Kurds. What the Middle East needs is not drawing new borders between the peoples, but reinforcing friendships, love and brotherhood. This is why preserving the territorial integrity of Syria and Iraq is crucial.

In a session attended by only 65 of its 111 members, the Northern Iraqi Parliament, which had been closed for almost two years, took the decision to hold an “independence referendum” on Sept 25, 2017. The people of the region were asked “Do you want the Kurdistan region lying outside the authority of the Iraqi central government to become an independent state?” and 92 percent of them voted “Yes”. However, up until a few days before the referendum, the opposition parties, different regional ethnic elements such as the Turkmens and Arabs, the Yazidis in Sinjar and Ninova, and even a substantial portion of Kurds who had voted for the KDP (the party led by Barzani) were widely and openly expressing their disapproval for the referendum. For example, Yusuf Muhammad, the Chairperson of the Parliament, of the Gorran (Change) Movement, which could be considered the main opposition party of Northern Iraq, stated that the Kurdistan independence referendum scheduled for Sept 25 will not have any “legitimacy” unless it is confirmed by a decision of the parliament. Meanwhile, some Kurdish politicians and NGO’s launched an anti-referendum campaign under the slogan “No for Now”. The common opinion was that the referendum would not bring any new benefit for the region; on the contrary, it would spark tension and conflicts, which in turn would lead to further suffering for the people of the region. How accurate this statement is has already begun to be confirmed.

By advancing deeper into Iraq in 2014 and capturing Mosul, ISIS plunged the Barzani administration directly into war. Apart from that conflict the Barzani administration faced other challenges too, such as the care of refugees coming from Syria and Iraq, being unable to receive their 17 percent oil share of from the central administration, the PKK attempting to declare autonomy in the Sinjar region, the protests sparked by economic stagnation, and internal political disputes. Barzani probably saw the referendum as a way out of these difficulties or a political maneuver; elections are to be held in Northern Iraq in early November, and Barzani wants to enter those elections as “the leader who took a step towards independence”. However, this is an erroneous strategy that does not take the good of the people into consideration at all.

The first autonomy agreement between Baghdad and the Kurds were signed in 1970. Backed by the USA, the Kurds obtained an area under their own control in 1991. In 2005, this area acquired an official status known as the Iraqi Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). The borders were not clearly drawn during this status acquisition, and the oil-rich territories, Kirkuk in particular, remained as disputed areas. Taking advantage of the ISIS offensive in 2014, the KRG took control of Kirkuk. However, Kirkuk and Mosul have always been highly sensitive and controversial areas, in which Turkey also has the right to speak about since World War I. Moreover, these areas are not predominantly Kurdish, contrary to what the KRG claims. Attempting to incorporate Kirkuk, whose population is largely comprised of Turkmens and Arabs, into the KRG through a fait accompli is a highly dangerous step that may lead to a Turkmen-Arab-Kurdish conflict in the future.

As a matter of fact, the Central Iraqi Government called the referendum decision unconstitutional and illegitimate. International organizations, including the UN and countries that are influential in the region such as the USA and Russia, did not express their support for the referendum. Turkey also objected to this referendum, voicing valid concerns. Despite all the warnings from neighboring countries, the central Iraqi government and international organizations, the Barzani administration was insistent upon the referendum decision. This seemingly implacable attitude of Barzani’s prompted consequent measures and decisions that have been taken against the KRG.

First, Iran and Turkey announced that they would close their border gates. Meanwhile, the Iraqi Central Government announced that they had closed Erbil’s airspace to all flights. The Supreme Court of Iraq launched an investigation against those responsible for the referendum under charges of disrupting Iraq’s unity and posing a risk to the security of the country. Nouri al-Maliki, the Vice-President of Iraq, described the illegal referendum held by the KRG as “war against the unity of the people of Iraq.”

It seems that this decision that was taken without even consulting or paying any heed to criticisms from Turkey, who offers financial support to the KRG so that the salaries of the Peshmerga and government officials could be paid, provides military training and equipment to the Peshmerga, and takes measures for the protection of the government and Barzani himself, will drive the KRG into an even more challenging situation. Contrary to what people have been led to believe, the referendum will not bring independence: On the contrary, it will result in the loss of the already existent achievements on the Northern Iraq’s part, and what’s worse, it may well pave the way for new conflicts in the ever-tumultuous Middle East. The Islamic world is certainly not in need of new conflicts; it needs to cease the ongoing bloodshed in various regions as soon as possible and to do so, it needs to achieve unity.

The easiest way to establish control over these lands is to divide it into smaller pieces and set these territories upon each other in perpetual conflict, thus having them waste their energy on internecine conflict. This is what has been done in the Middle East for almost a century. Under the current circumstances, the Barzani administration does not hold sufficient political power. The tensions that will most likely escalate in the wake of the referendum may provide a favorable ground for overthrowing the Barzani government. After Barzani is overthrown, the rule of the region may conceivably pass to the PKK terrorist organization, just as it did in the Northern Syria. A communist state to be established by merging Northern Iraq and Northern Syria under PKK rule will tyrannize the Muslim Kurdish population before everyone else. On top of that, a new North Korea-like communist state will be established in the Middle East, bringing all Muslim countries up against a dire threat. Kurds are doubtlessly a nation that have endured terrible ordeals in various periods throughout history, particularly under the rule of Saddam Hussein. The way to mend the wounds of these sufferings and to attain the beautiful future they deserve, however, is not through confining themselves to a smaller tract of land. Instead of becoming a small, easy target waiting to be swallowed, the rational and right thing to do is to act in league with all Muslim countries, and above all, with Turkey, who has been by their side in every time of hardship, thus being part of a powerful alliance.

By Harun Yahya – Author