The controversial referendum for the Kurdish region of Iraq’s secession was finally voted on this past week, on September 25th, in which an overwhelming majority of Kurdish Iraqis voting to support Kurdish independence from Iraq.
The Kurds, and ethnic group within Iraq and Turkey, wish to become an entity independence from both countries, forming the independent nation of Kurdistan. This idea, however, isn’t new, as the ethnic Kurds have desired a Kurdish state since World War I when the map of the Middle East was redrawn, scattering ethnic Kurds across Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey. Ever since, support for Kurdistan’s independence has remain strong ever since, with nearly 99% of Kurdish Iraqis voting to favor independence in 2003, and 93% voting in favor of independence this past week, as reported by Iraqi-Kurd officials.
These wins in these referendums, however, do not constitute a win for the secessionist cause, as these are non-binding referendums, which only serve the purpose to voice Kurdish support for an independent state.
This referendum drew heavy criticism from the Iraqi government, who viewed this as an act of treason, and threatened to send Iraqi troops in to seize oil fields in Kurdish territory, as well as shut down international flights to the region.
This proposal, as per Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, was an attempt to seize control of Iraqi oil fields and was unconstitutional, and demanded Kurdish authorities cancel the vote and void all results. al-Abadi additionally offered the concession of initiating talks between the Kurdistan Regional Government over independence, but only if the referendum and outcome were cancelled.
In response to the Iraqi government’s proposed sanctions against their airports, the KRG’s government released a statement on Wednesday, saying they would refuse to relinquish authority of their airports. Initially, Mawlud Murdad, transportation minister of the KRG, characterized the ultimatum “political” and “illegal”, arguing that airports were critical infrastructure in the fight against the Islamic State, but later, Murdad announced that the KRG agreed to talks with the Iraqi government to monitor Kurdish airports.
Turkey, a border nation to the disputed region, has also expressed opposition to the vote, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan deploying troops to the border, where they were joined by the Iraqi soldiers. Kurdistan’s domestic economy is heavily dependent on Turkey, and Erdogan has expressed their ability to isolate an independent Kurdistan through shutting off oil pipelines and ceasing all truck deliveries.
Additionally, the United States has refused to recognize the vote over concerns with how a fractured Iraq could affect the syndicate against ISIS. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Monday, “We hope for a unified Iraq to annihilate ISIS, and certainly a unified Iraq to bush back on Iran.”
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson added on, saying “The United States does not recognize the…unilateral referendum…the vote and the results lack legitimacy, and we continue to support a united, federal, democratic and prosperous Iraq.”
For now, the fate of the Kurdish state seems far off, as no other major country is willing to recognize it amongst the already intense turmoil in the Middle East. However, pushes for independence do not seem to be slowing down.
by Emily Meng, Staff Writer