What impact is the upcoming Kurdish referendum likely to have on the closing phase of the campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq?
As Kurds grow more assertive about their right to hold a referendum on independence next week, rhetoric from politicians, military generals and regional officials is threatening to undermine the social cohesion that has so far prevailed in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq.
“It pushes us even more to fight for our rights, to organize the referendum and to build a state of our own”, said Jawhar.
“Since the day Iraq was created, the Kurds have sought partnership time and time again, but they have told us to go to hell!”
“If the Kurds include Kirkuk by force in the referendum process, it will be considered then an occupied province by non-Iraqi forces, and then the prime minister will be obliged to take measures to take back these lands”, Khalid Al-Miferji, who represents Kirkuk in Iraq’s federal parliament, said in a phone interview.
Since Syria’s crisis began more than six years ago, the country’s long ostracized Kurds established self-administrations in three different cantons in northern Syria, expanding their semi-autonomous region.
The Baghdad government, Iraq’s neighbours and Western powers fear the vote could break up a country that has seen devastating sectarian and ethnic conflict since a 2003 US -led invasion to topple Saddam Hussein.
Baghdad is vehemently opposed to the vote, which has also alarmed neighbouring Turkey, which has a large Kurdish minority.
Barzani, whose term expired in 2015 but remains as Iraqi Kurdistan’s de facto leader, seems determined to go ahead, leaving the Iraqi government with little room for maneuver.
The vote comes days before Iraqi Kurds are to vote on their independence from Baghdad but the two elections are not related. Kurds have their own reasoning and believe that on the top of the fundamental divisions in Iraq, the last decade has revealed another major rift between Iraq’s main components which is on the issue of governance.
It has built strong trade ties with the semi-autonomous region, which exports hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil per day through Turkey to worldwide markets.
“Kurdistan’s land belongs to the Kurdish people”, Kemal al-Kirkuki, the Kurdish military commander responsible for the front-line against Islamic State group, told Reuters at his base in Dibis. Stop digging, obviously. Those involved in the imbroglio over the so-called independence referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan, due to be held on Monday, would do well to heed this advice.Holding a referendum on such a contentious issue at this time is freakish, to say the least.
The Kurdish government accuses Baghdad of reneging on an agreement to give it a share of oil revenues.