The Iraqi Kurdish independence referendum led to a significant vote in favor of independence to split from Baghdad. At the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) capital, the results from Sept. 25 were announced two days later by officials in Irbil. Precisely 92.73 percent answered “yes” in response to, “Do you want the Kurdistan Region and the Kurdistani areas outside the administration of the Region to become an independent state?”
Although the vote declared a victory in independence, the question remains as to whether this idea will become a reality.The KRG is not officially independent from Iraq. The likeliest outcome would result in theKurdish leaders negotiating a separation with the Iraqi central government in Baghdad.
Baghdad has responded by ordering the Kurds to withdraw the results of the referendum and give up their control of international airports. Their refusal may lead to the threatening of a flight ban. This is because the airports in Erbil and Sulaymaniah, which are Kurdish cities, are currently under KRG’s control.This means international travelers do not require an Iraqi visa to land there.
The referendum is fraught with danger. All nation-states have an interest in maintaining their territorial integrity and are always opposed to secessionist movements—whether they arise from within their borders or not.
– Dr. Joel Toppen, Professor of Political Science, Hope College
Even though the U.S. has been long time allies with the Kurds,the U.S. opposed this referendum, since it may easily spark tensions with the Islamic State.Iran, which borders Kurdistan and has a significant amount of power in Baghdad as well as its own large Kurdish population,also strongly opposed this voting. Israel is the only country that has supported the Kurdish referendum.
Turkey is, at most, controversial with the Kurds. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government strongly criticized the referendum. Turkey has been at war with its own Kurdish separatist movement, the KurdistanWorkers’ Party (PKK), for decades and is also opposed to the emerging PK Kaligned autonomous Kurdish region in Syria.
Since 2014, the KRG has exported its oil through a pipeline to Turkey, creating an economic tie for the Kurds while also decreasing its dependence on Baghdad.
Many Turkish companies are owned by ethnic Kurdish Turks who now dominate the Iraqi-Kurdish economy. This allowed Barzani’s party, which is theKurdistan Democratic Party, to provide the Turkish government with intelligence on the PKK.The KDP tolerated Turkish military incursions into its territory.
Dr. Joel Toppen, a professor of political science at HopeCollege, says, “I think the referendum is fraught with danger.All countries in the region withKurdish populations (Turkey,Syria, Iran) are strongly opposed to the referendum and Kurdish independence.” Toppen continues, stating, “All nation states have an interest in maintaining their territorial integrity and are almost always opposed to secessionist movements—whether they arise from within their borders or not. Turkish President Erdogan has said it will lead to an ethnic war throughout the region, ‘They are not forming an independent state, they are opening a wound in the region to twist the knife in,’ Erdogan says.”
Nonetheless, Kurdistan is still uncertain about officially gaining its independence internationally. This risky decision may lead to riskier results. No matter how close the Kurds are to their goal, their fate relies on its neighboring countries’ reactions over the next few weeks.