In­de­pen­dence won’t be easy for Kurds

Global Times - - Front Page - By Zou Zhiqiang The au­thor is an as­so­ci­ated re­search fel­low at the Mid­dle East Stud­ies In­sti­tute of Shang­hai In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies Univer­sity. opinion@glob­al­times.com.cn

Res­i­dents of Iraq’s Kur­dis­tan re­gion voted de­ci­sively in a ref­er­en­dum Mon­day for in­de­pen­dence, trig­ger­ing an in­crease of re­gional ten­sion.

Kurds make up the fourth­largest eth­nic group in the Mid­dle East, some 30 mil­lion peo­ple, but they have no land of their own. Kurds have long sought au­ton­omy and in­de­pen­dence. The in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum this time has pro­voked strong ob­jec­tions from Iraq’s cen­tral govern­ment and its neigh­bors, in­clud­ing Turkey, Iran and Syria, and has not gained support from the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity.

The in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum alone does not mean Kurds can re­al­ize their goal of build­ing up their own coun­try, or over­turn the present or­der in the Mid­dle East.

How­ever, the ref­er­en­dum will in­crease in­sta­bil­ity in the chaotic re­gion, hugely af­fect­ing the sit­u­a­tion there.

Present-day na­tional bound­aries in the Mid­dle East were drawn up in the SykesPi­cot Agree­ment and set by other post-WWI ar­range­ments. Kurds were sep­a­rated across borders into Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Iran. Af­ter the Sec­ond Gulf War, Kurds in north­ern Iraq gained a high level of au­ton­omy and de facto in­de­pen­dence.

Due to the on­go­ing chaos in Iraq and Syria, es­pe­cially the devel­op­ment of the Is­lamic State, Kurds in the two coun­tries have de­vel­oped fast, of­fer­ing an op­por­tu­nity for them to build up their own coun­try.

How­ever, the ref­er­en­dum may trig­ger a civil war in Iraq and even new re­gional con­flicts.

The Iraqi Kur­dis­tan Re­gional Govern­ment has long en­dured a tense re­la­tion­ship with Iraq’s cen­tral govern­ment. The two have con­fronta­tions over own­er­ship of land and di­vi­sion of in­ter­ests, which are re­lated to na­tional unity and ter­ri­to­rial in­tegrity as well as con­trol over the rights to oil re­sources in the coun­try.

Thus Iraq’s cen­tral govern­ment strongly op­posed the ref­er­en­dum, and has ex­pressed that it will “take all mea­sures” to safe­guard na­tional unity, en­hanc­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of a civil war.

In ad­di­tion, Iraq’s neigh­bors – Turkey, Iran and Syria – con­sid­er­ing the large num­ber of Kurds in their coun­tries, have held a tough stance on the ref­er­en­dum. They are afraid the ref­er­en­dum will in­ten­sify their coun­tries’ sep­a­ratist move­ments, harm na­tional se­cu­rity and their ter­ri­to­rial in­tegrity. Turkey is most sen­si­tive to the ref­er­en­dum, and has ob­jected to it strongly.

Ow­ing to the com­plex­ity of the Kur­dish is­sue, the in­flu­ence of the ref­er­en­dum will not be lim­ited within Iraq, and neigh­bor­ing coun­tries’ in­volve­ment could spill over into new re­gional con­fronta­tions and even wars.

There are many in­ter­nal ob­sta­cles for Iraqi Kurds to re­al­ize in­de­pen­dence.

The Kur­dis­tan re­gion is land­locked and there­fore re­stricted by its ge­o­graph­i­cal bound­aries, and is be­set by con­fronta­tions along its borders. With­out support from sur­round­ing coun­tries, it will be dif­fi­cult for Kurds to ex­port their oil re­sources which they rely heav­ily on, even if they win in­de­pen­dence.

Be­sides, there are a lot of con­fronta­tions among dif­fer­ent par­ties within the re­gion, in ad­di­tion to po­lit­i­cal non­trans­parency and cor­rup­tion, while the econ­omy is frag­ile and mori­bund.

It will also be hard for the Iraqi Kurds to free them­selves from the in­flu­ences of the games among ma­jor pow­ers and re­gional coun­tries. It’s not just Kur­dis­tan’s neigh­bors, but the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity that does not support in­de­pen­dence for the re­gion.

In gen­eral, an in­de­pen­dent Iraqi Kur­dis­tan will face a more dan­ger­ous and un­cer­tain fu­ture. It would be bet­ter for the re­gion to main­tain the sta­tus quo, get ac­cess to more land and re­sources, and gain un­der­stand­ing and support from neigh­bor­ing coun­tries and ma­jor pow­ers, and then slowly pur­sue nom­i­nal in­de­pen­dence.

It is dif­fi­cult for Kurds to re­al­ize their goals of build­ing up their own coun­try, con­sid­er­ing the com­plex­i­ties of the Mid­dle East. The in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum’s in­flu­ence on the geopo­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion in the Mid­dle East will be par­tial and lim­ited.

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

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