Experts warn Iraqi Kurdish independence referendum disastrous to region

Source:Xinhua Published: 2017/9/25 7:26:39

As the Iraqi Kurds are going ahead into a controversial referendum on independence of the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan, experts warn that the move would deteriorate the already complex situation in the Middle East.

The referendum is not a declaration of independence, but still it is a way for the Iraqi Kurds to express their intention to pursue independence more aggressively in a post-Islamic State (IS) Iraq, and to solidify their territorial gains, most importantly the oil-rich Kirkuk province.

The insistence of the regional Kurdish leadership on holding independence referendum apparently is to win two goals; one is to raise the ceiling of the Kurdish claims and demands when beginning negotiation with Baghdad to gain more power, according to Ibrahim al-Ameri, an Iraqi political analyst.

"The reason behind winning such goal is to put more pressure on Baghdad and creating future bargaining power to resolve pending files with Baghdad, including the distribution of oil wealth and disputed areas outside the region's provinces of Erbil, Sulaimaniyah and Dohuk," Ameri told Xinhua in an interview.

The Kurds consider the northern oil-rich province of Kirkuk and parts of Nineveh, Diyala and Salahudin provinces as "disputed areas" and want them to be incorporated into their Kurdish region, a move fiercely opposed by the Arabs and Turkomans and by Baghdad government.

The Kurds will use the referendum to legitimize their hold of newly gained territories from the fight against IS militants. After the blitzkrieg of IS group in June 2014, Kurdistan region has gained control over many of the disputed areas, most importantly Kirkuk province.

"Knowing that the bargaining position with Baghdad and Washington is diminishing as the fight against IS group is coming to an end, the Kurds are acting fast to solidify their territorial gains before pressure will redirected to push the Kurds out of those disputed areas," Ameri concluded.

The second goal of the Kurds is to express their intention to separate from Baghdad rule and establish an independent state, according to Ameri.

The Kurds realize that an independent state is not possible soon, although the referendum is widely believed to be "Yes" to independence, because the international and regional situations will not allow any possible deterioration such as uncontrolled remapping in the Middle East region which already is filled with crises.

"However, the Kurds realize that even if Baghdad accepts the separation of the three Kurdish provinces in their borders before 2003, it will not be easy for Baghdad to accept the huge expansion of the Kurds outside the region in what is known as disputed areas, including the oil-rich province of Kirkuk," Ameri said.

The Kurds apparently are confident that the referendum inside the three Kurdish provinces will be "Yes," and apparently they guaranteed that they have enough votes for the "Yes" in the claimed disputed areas outside the region, despite the strong rejection of some Turkomans and Arabs and other minorities.

Baghdad government and the political parties have no alternative but to reject the referendum on independence that includes the disputed areas, as the country's national elections is closing next year.

"It is normal that no prime minister would like to see his country break up during his reign, although the real independence is not so close, but annexing the disputed areas to the region would be a big failure for any politician," Ameri said.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on Sunday reiterated his rejection to the referendum, saying "taking a decision unilaterally that would affect Iraq's unity and making separation from one side is contrary to the law and unconstitutional, and we will not deal with it or with its results."

"If the Kurdish regional authorities insist on holding the referendum, there will be subsequent steps to protect Iraq's unity," Abadi warned in a statement broadcast on the official Iraqiya channel.

The US government repeatedly warned the Kurds to postpone the referendum because it wants the world to center on the fight against IS group in Iraq and Syria, and it believes that such move could derail or confuse the war against IS terrorism.

"The Kurdish government has been regionally and internationally isolated because the world and regional states have deep concerns that an independent Kurdistan would turn the Middle East region upside down," Ameri said.

According to Ameri, if the independence of Kurdistan happens in the future, it "would mean the collapse of Iraqi state, the defragmentation of Syria, and Lebanon could also repeat the fate of Iraq and Syria. In addition, Turkey and Iran will find themselves in trouble as their Kurdish population may also demand independence."

Eventually, the referendum has the possibility of affecting the balance of leverage between Baghdad and Erbil, as well as the regional states.

"The Kurds appear powerful with control over the disputed areas and a referendum at hand. The referendum is not declaration of independence, but they look like holding significant bargaining power on the road to independence in the future," Ameri concluded.

Posted in: MID-EAST

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