The Kurdish Referendum Unites Turkey, Iran and Iraq

KRG President Barzani at a referendum rally Photo: Kuridstan Region Presidency Website and Barzani's Tweet
KRG President Barzani at a referendum rally Photo: Kuridstan Region Presidency Website and Barzani's Tweet

Iraqi Kurds have overwhelmingly voted for independence. Over 92% of the Iraqi Kurds have opted for independence in a recently held referendum which was unanimously opposed by the regional countries including Turkey, Iran and obviously Iraq. Baghdad has been very outspoken against the Kurdish independence referendum.

The Iraqi government repeatedly called for talks instead of holding a referendum before the Iraqi Kurds voted for independence. But after the Kurds cast their ballots in favor of a separate state, the Iraqi government has apparently decided to bounce back. Instead of cooperating with KRG president Barzani who called on for dialogues on the basis of the referendum result, the Iraqi government has decided to force Kurdish authority to surrender to the central government.

The Iraqi government had been criticized for its incompetence as it failed to protect its sovereignty to ISIS. Mosul being the birthplace of barbaric ISIS exposed the fragile Iraqi defense to the world. In times of Iraqi Security forces’ failure to protect Iraq from ISIS and lost its biggest cities to the barbaric force, the Kurdish Peshmerga forces have been way too effective regaining territory from ISIS. Their progress in the war against ISIS-inspired other forces which eventually resulted in the defeat of the vicious agents of terror in the modern world.  The former Head of US Training of the Iraqi Army Lt. Gen. Barbero spoke highly of Peshmerga forces, “The Peshmergas are brave fighters who punch above their weight.” He praised the Peshmerga force’s capacity as they “take on bigger enemies such as ISIS and perform bravely.

The overwhelming Kurdish vote for independence, however, has changed the world for the brave Iraqi Kurds. Instead of a negotiation from a demanding position given that over 92% of the Kurds opted for independence, Iraqi Kurds officials have now bumped into an overwhelming pressure from the regional and international elements.

 Turkish Campaign against the Kurdish Referendum Emboldens Abadi

The present Iraqi government has better courage as it has managed to defeat ISIS and both the regional powerhouses i.e. Turkey and Iran unconditionally support Iraq in case of a Kurdish cause. The Abadi government, emboldened by the support of Turkey and Iran has declined to participate in any talk on the basis of the referendum result.

Both the countries, especially Turkey has issues with its own Kurdish population. Turkey maintained business and great ties with the Iraqi Kurds until they pursued independence. Because an independent Kurdish country at the Turkish border is threatening the integrity of Turkish sovereignty and this regional power is not ready to let that happen. So, it will probably do everything possible at its disposal to deter Iraqi Kurds to declare independence.

The Turkish President already warned of a war on the basis of ethnicity after the Iraqi Kurds voted for independence. Turkey is probably not going to stop by talking and expressing worries. The Turkish government has already threatened a restriction on oil trading with Iraqi Kurdistan. Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi’s office told the press on Thursday, as Al Jazeera reported, “he had been told by Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim in a call that Turkey would break with past practice and deal only with the Baghdad government over oil exports from Iraq.” The Turkish President Erdogan has also vowed that the Iraqi Kurds must not allow making ‘bigger mistakes’ after they made ‘big mistake’ by holding the referendum.

Iraq Launches Fierce Campaign against Erbil

A confident Haider al Abadi, the PM of Iraq has vowed to ‘use the law to control Kurds’ after the referendum results. “We will impose our federal authority all over Iraq, including the Kurdistan region, as per the power of the constitution and law. We are not making a threat. Some people have threatened us in this region, and some have resorted to force to impose a status quo in these regions. We will surprise them because we talk less and our actions are louder than words,” PM Abadi sounds very resolute these days.

Iraq has already imposed a flight ban on Kurdish region as promised after the Kurdish authority refused to hand over their airports to the control of Baghdad. The ban came into effect on Friday afternoon. According to the government order, international flights to Kurdish regions have been banned. But local flights are still operational. So, international flights now must now land in Baghdad instead of Erbil.

Iran to Actively Join the Campaign against the Kurdish Referendum

Iran has decided to hold joint military drills with the Iraqi military near Iran’s border with Iraqi Kurdistan. This drill comes in response to the Kurdish referendum which according to the Iranian government narratives is ‘illegitimate’.

Iran also has a big Kurdish population like Turkey. So they share the same tension. The Iranian government also fears that separatist movement within their share of Kurds could get a momentum given that Iraqi Kurdistan manages independence.

Iraqi forces already have taken part in a military drill with Turkish forces. Now, the Iranian army spokesman Masoud Jazayeri has confirmed: “A joint military exercise between Iran’s armed forces and units from the Iraqi army will be held in the coming days along the shared border.”

“In the meeting, the territorial integrity and unity of Iraq and the illegitimacy of the independence referendum in northern Iraq have stressed again and necessary decisions were taken to provide security at the borders and welcome Iraq’s central government forces to take a position at border crossings,” he added.

The largest ethnic group without a state has spoken for independence in the referendum. All most all of them want a separate country. So, there is strong emotion in Erbil for a separate country on the basis of ethnicity. Now, only time will say if the Middle East will have a new state on the basis of ethnicity or a new war, on the basis of ethnicity.

About Masum Billah 37 Articles
Masum Billah is a Staff Writer for The GeoStrategists. A Graduate from the Department of International Relations at the University of Dhaka, Masum Billah is a human rights activist. He writes columns on human rights, foreign policy, and terrorism.
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