Delicate geopolitics abound over the KRG’s declaration of a vote to decide on the establishment of an independent Kurdistan. What are they?
Detailing the delicate geopolitics surrounding the referendum in N. Iraq
1 Why is the KRG government holding a referendum?
There has long been latent frustration on the part of some of the Kurds of Iraq as well as among those in other parts of the Middle East that they are the only people in the region who failed to get an independent state after the First World War. Depending on the conditions prevailing in national, regional and global politics, nationalistic aspirations have expressed themselves in many ways extending from regional autonomy to full independence.
2 Why now and why in Iraq?
Domestically, KRG President Masoud Barzani is politically weak and unsure he would return to power if regional elections were held today. By mobilizing the public for national independence, he may hope not only to win an election but also go into history as the architect of Kurdish independence. Furthermore, there are serious disagreements between the KRG and the Baghdad goverment on oil income distribution. Internationally, major world and regional powers are absorbed in other important regional conficts. In the effort to clear the region from Islamic state, the KRG-Peshmerga is a major fighting force. In short, no-one is in a position to offer unrestrained resistance to the KRG’s referendum plans. Israel even support it.
3 Do all Kurdish political movements favor a referendum?
Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party has been the leading force behind the referendum. Though not strictly an Iraqi organization, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party and its affiliates are also in favor. Although there is less enthusiasm among others including the Sulaymaniyah-based Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and several small parties, it is politically difficult to show public opposition.
4 In what areas will the referendum be held?
There is some imprecision on this. Technically speaking, the referendum ought to be held within the territory of the KRG, but there may be areas where fighting is still going on or where a significant portion of the population is not of Kurdish origin, rendering regional implementation difficult. Then, there are also “contested” areas like Kirkuk where an earlier referendum was supposed to have been held to determine to what region of Iraq that particular area should belong.
5 What is the position of the Iraqi government?
The Iraqi government considers the referendum untimely, unlawful and not binding. The Constitution of Iraq allows for a referendum in the federal regions under well defined circumstances. The Baghdad government has opposed the current referendum but has been careful about not making irrevocable statements difficult to backstep. Clearly, the Iraqi government, in view of its current security concerns, is reluctant to meet the KRG’s challenge by force. It hopes international and regional actors will be able to deter KRG’s secession. Haider Al Abadi likes to remain an acceptable leader Kurdish leaders can talk.
6 Who are the international and regional actors?
International actors have an interest in the region include the US,
which destroyed the government of Saddam Hussein and helped design the current regime. The US has a stake in making a success of the regime. Americans would rather not face a new conflict in the region in addition to the one in Syria and the pending conflict in the Gulf. The Russians prefer stability in the region. Both countries are aware that opening the gates of political change would release political forces which they cannot contain, generating new irresoluble conflicts on top of already existing ones. The Chinese, the French, the British and the Germans entertain similar feelings.
7 What about the role of the regional actors?
Turkey and Iran are both concerned that changes in Iraq would stimulate similar aspirations among their compatriots of Kurdish origin. They are not interested in a change of borders and share the concerns of major powers that opening the gates of change would produce unpredictable, highly problematical outcomes. Of course, Iran and Turkey are aware that the emergence of an independent Kurdistan would create additional domestic security concerns and possible irredentist claims on their territory.
8 What about the various Kurdish populations in the region?
If the referendum is held and leads to an independent Kurdistan, this would lead to excitement and possible attemtps by Kurds in Iran, Syria and Turkey to join the new state. Currently, however, the reverse concern is expressed more frequently. Many feel that a premature undertaking with little international support will likely fail and worsen the lot of the people of Kurdish origin in other countries.
9 How will Turkey be affected?
Turkey, like others, has no direct way of affecting the decision of the KRG government except joining others in opposing it, but taking care that this does not lead to a rupture in relations with the KRG.
10 Will the referendum make no difference at all then?
If the KRG manages to implement a fair, comprehensive referendum with high levels of participation, it would achieve a political victory on which it would base its claims to independence. Such an outcome would not be easy to ignore.