September’s independence referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan has pushed Baghdad to take control of Kirkuk and its oil fields from Kurdish control. To avert the threat of further direct confrontation, the two sides must agree to a reinvigorated UN-led effort to settle longstanding disputes over internal boundaries and shared oil revenues.
Tensions rose between Iraqi Kurdistan and central govt in Baghdad over 25 Sept Iraqi Kurdistan independence referendum. Despite opposition from U.S., UK, UN, Turkey, Iran and Syria, Iraqi Kurdistan President Barzani 12 Sept said referendum on independence would take place in governorates of Iraqi Kurdistan (Erbil, Sulaimaniya and Dohuk) and territories disputed with Baghdad. Parliament in Baghdad 12 Sept declared referendum “unconstitutional” and authorised PM Abadi to “take all measures” to preserve country’s unity; parliament 14 Sept voted to dismiss Kirkuk governor for endorsing referendum, Kirkuk governor challenged validity of dismissal. Kurdistan parliament 15 Sept convened for first time in nearly two years and voted in favour of holding referendum; opposition parties Gorran Movement and Kurdistan Islamic Group (Komal) boycotted session. Supreme Court 18 Sept ordered suspension of referendum which it claimed was unconstitutional. At Baghdad’s request, Iran 24 Sept halted flights between Iran and Iraqi Kurdistan. Referendum held 25 Sept as planned; over 92% voted in favour of independence. Baghdad 27 Sept began ban on international flights in and out of Iraqi Kurdistan. Abadi 1 Sept announced end of ten-day battle to retake Tal Afar from Islamic State (ISIS) in north west. Military 16 Sept began offensive to dislodge ISIS forces from Akashat region on Syrian border. In Thi Qar province in south, ISIS-claimed shooting and suicide bombing near Nasiriyah 14 Sept left at least 80 dead. UNSC 21 Sept authorised probe into ISIS’s alleged war crimes in Iraq.
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[The Kurds] may have made a miscalculation of historic proportions by proceeding with the [independence] referendum over the objections of just about everyone who counts.
The fight [between the Kurdish and Iraqi forces] is clearly not over. The potential for civil war is there.
If things escalate [after Baghdad’s threats of military action against the Kurds], it will be because of a particular dynamic that evolves. I don’t think we’re even close to that point.
[Former Iraqi President Jalal Talabani's] biggest victory, and vindication, was to ascend to the presidency of Iraq, succeeding a dictator who had worked long and hard to eradicate the Kurdish national movement.
Kurdistan is not ready because economically, it is a mess. I don’t see independence happening. It’s all about capability, not desire.
[The Iraqi Kurdistan referendum's] impact on Iraq will depend less on its turnout and results, and more on how Kurds and Iraqis will react to the vote and manipulate its results to achieve their political aims.
The “yes” vote in the 25 September 2017 referendum will not deliver independence for Iraqi Kurds. Rather, it is designed merely to remind Iraqi leaders in Baghdad that it is the Kurds’ strong wish to split off from a country from which they have always felt alien.
Originally published in The Atlantic
On September 25, Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani plans to hold a referendum on Kurdish independence. The results will not be legally binding, but in calling for a vote, the Kurdish leadership has put its own society and its foreign partners into a bind. Although the vote may extend the lifespan of a Kurdish leadership otherwise in decline, it calls for unity that mutes domestic dissent and risks provoking crises that will leave Kurdistan externally exposed.
Originally published in Foreign Affairs
Originally published in World Politics Review
Originally published in Limes, Italian Review of Geopolitics
Originally published in Istituto per gli Studi di Politica Internazionale