Significance of Kurdistan Referendum

By Naveed Qazi | Editor, Globe Upfront

On 25 September 2017, a binding independence referendum will take place in Iraqi Kurdistan that was initially planned in 2014.

This development has been criticised by Turkey, Iraq and Iran as these three neighbours have always looked down upon their aspirations for freedom. They deem the referendum causing a ‘greater conflict’ and ‘destabilisation’ in the region.

A majority of five million Iraqi Kurds voting for independence is widely expected. Kurds always wanted a nation of their own, ever since the end of First World War. For this cause, no one can deny that they have given epitome of sacrifices.

When colonial powers redrew the maps in Middle East, the Kurdish people faced a miserable brunt because the land they belonged to was divided into Turkey, Iran, Syria and Iraq. In each of their retaliations throughout recent history, they had been beaten because of a stronger military opponent. Now, this is a historic time for the Kurdish people because a political progress seems to be underway.

The Kurdish referendum comes at an unfavourable time, especially when Iraq is amidst a civil war propelled by Islamic State. The Iraqi Shiite dominated areas are trying to oppose the upcoming referendum, but it is unclear what political moves they have planned to prevent it. Iraqi military organisation is dysfunctional right now and also in operational fatigue because of their counterinsurgency missions against the Islamic State. In present crises, many war torn Iraqis have increased complexities by entering into the region.

Although the last civil war happened in mid-1990s, Kurdistan has been regarded as a major conflict zone, where notorious episodes of genocides and ethnic cleansing have happened especially during the reign of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party.

In their history, the Kurdish rebellion of 1983 led to ‘Al-Anfal Genocide’ (inspired by a chapter in the Qur’an) including the barbaric Halabja chemical attack by Saddam’s cousin, Ali Hassan Majid, known as ‘Chemical Ali’, resulted in killing of over 10,000 people in Kurdistan. The hostilities in the region proceeded with Kurdish -Turkish conflict, ongoing Iran- PJAK conflict and creation of Kurdish autonomous republic in Iraq in 1991.

A referendum vote proceeding in coming time would also harm the reelection prospects of current Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al- Abadi, who is enjoying a winning success against Islamic State insurgency with the help of Iraqi State military.

In recent times, Kurdish Army, known as ‘Peshmerga’, have been pivotal in defeating the Islamic State in the ‘Rojava’ territory of Kurdish Syria. Many Kurdish leaders wanted the referendum to be held after the fall of Mosul, which eventually happened a month back.

The White House opposes the referendum, but Israelis support it. The referendum, however, has also been criticised in some quarters because Kurdish volunteers and its ‘Peshmerga’ fighters who have helped thousands of Yazidi civilians escape war in the ongoing Syrian conflict are out of financial means. For this purpose, a $22 million aid from U.S State Department has also been depleted since last September.

The other important concern that is rising amongst common Kurds is the uncertain nature of the referendum. Many think that the timing of referendum is premature and want their leaders to ponder more on economic issues of development like paying salaried employees adequately and diminishing their state debt to name a few.

The expected referendum will make Iraqi Kurdistan free of control from the jurisdiction of Shi’te Arab led government in Baghdad. However, many common Kurds see the referendum as a ploy against their economic mismanagement since the last twenty-five years, with the establishment of Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in 1992.

Despite this fact, figures suggest that the area has been much more developed than Iraq and other Kurdistan regions. Many nicknamed Iraqi Kurdistan as ‘the next Dubai’ with annual GDP touching 12.7% between 2005- 2008 and 11.8% between 2010-2012.

The region has a giant oil bed beneath and the economy is oil based with a giant 970 km crude oil export line starting from Ceyhan in Turkey to Kirkuk in Kurdistan. The region has also attracted around 20,000 expat workers in the past. However, the current scenario of declining oil prices has also put a great strain on the Kurdish oil sector that led to declining salaries and low purchasing power, mostly since 2014.

Many commentators are also making fair assumptions regarding improved economic progress in the oil rich region, as a largely free Kurdistan wont need approvals from Baghdad anymore for corporate investments and foreign direct investments in general.

There are also risks involved with a fully initiated Kurdish independence in Iraq. Infact, the truest form of independence for the Kurds would be a united Kurdistan constituted from all countries.

However, the Kurdish population in South Eastern Turkey has withdrawn their demand for independence and now want a greater autonomy. The same goes with Syrian Kurdish controlled ‘Rojava’, who rely more on direct democracy political models, or decentralisated councils. However, Iranian Kurds, on the other hand, are resuming their armed struggle against the Iranian Republic.

In recent times, Iran has shelled several number of Iranian Kurdistan villages largely consisting of ‘Kolbars’ (Kurdish porters). Iranian Kurdish political parties have expressed support for the referendum in Iraq and so have the regional Turkish Kurds.

Therefore, there is a chance that a free Kurdistan in Iraq, in times to come, could propel a renewed cause of secession from Turkish Kurdistan region (when Kurdish Workers Party has unfavourable stances amidst Turkish leaders, EU and US lobby) and Iranian Kurdistan region (due to mid level insurgency).


Popular Posts