Kurds Push Ahead with Independence Vote

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Kurds have sought an independent state since at least the end of WW1. [Getty]

22 September 2017 | Staff | The New Arab

Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani on Friday insisted that a 25 September independence referendum will still go ahead, despite regional condemnation of the historic vote.

Since declaring the referendum in June for the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq, Kurds have faced mounting international pressure to call off the vote.

“The referendum is no longer in my hands, nor is it in those of the (political) parties — it is in your hands,” Barzani told a large crowd at a football stadium in the regional capital Erbil.
“We say that we are ready for serious open-minded dialogue with Baghdad, but after September 25, because now it is too late,” he said of Monday’s plebiscite.

Iraq's Kurdistan region's President Massoud Barzani speaks during an interview with Reuters in Erbil
FILE PHOTO: Iraq’s Kurdistan region’s President Massoud Barzani speaks during an interview with Reuters in Erbil, Iraq July 6, 2017. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari

Kurds ready to pay any price for freedom, Barzani says, sticking by independence vote

 

Negotiations are still taking place aimed at persuading Barzani to postpone any referendum, according to officials close to the discussions.

“Nothing is definitive yet. Discussions are continuing to try to offer him serious guarantees that will convince him to change his mind,” said one official who did not wish to be identified.

In Ankara, Turkey’s National Security Council, chaired by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, slammed the planned referendum as “illegitimate”, indicating that Ankara was prepared to retaliate if it went ahead.
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It warned that Ankara was prepared to use its “rights” in line with international agreements, without specifying what action it could take.

Meanwhile, a commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Major General Qassem Soleimani, held talks with Barzani in Erbil.

“It’s his last visit before the referendum to advise Kurdish officials that Iran is seriously hostile to it and warn them to call it off,” a provisional source said.

Regional concerns

Turkey and Iran both have large Kurdish populations and fear the vote in northern Iraq could stoke separatist ambitions at home.

Iraq’s central government is staunchly opposed to the referendum in the oil-rich Kurdish region and has said it violates the Iraqi constitution.

Baghdad suspended payments to Barzani’s regional government in 2014 after a dispute over oil exports.

The payments, 17 percent of Iraq’s national budget, were worth around $12 billion and made up 80 percent of the Kurdish region’s budget revenues, leading to a reduction in wages for Kurdish Peshmerga fighters.

“The Iranians are still pushing for negotiations between Kurdistan and Baghdad,” a provisional source said.

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Soleimani has told Kurdish officials that “Iran is pressuring Baghdad so it accepts Kurdish demands and solves the issues of the budget, peshmerga salaries and disputed areas”.

Disputed areas

Since 2003, Iraqi Kurdistan has been made up of the three provinces of Erbil, Dohun and Sulaimaniyah, but its leaders have laid claim to other areas that are constitutionally under Baghdad’s authority, including the oil-rich province of Kirkuk.

The Iraqi Kurds would like these disputed areas to take part in the vote, leading to strong warnings.

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Link: The Kurdish Project

In the town of Tuz Khurmatu in the province of Salaheddine, an official from the Hashd al-Shaabi Shia paramilitary group has said he will not allow the poll.

“We’re ready for a fight to the death,” said Atef Annajar, whose group is dominated by Iranian-backed Shia fighters, adding however that “the leadership is trying to calm the situation”.

Hadi al-Ameri, head of the powerful Iran-backed Badr organisation, last week vowed to defend the unity of Iraq, warning that the poll could trigger partition and civil war.

On the political front, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said this week he rejected an independence referendum under any form, even non-binding.

The poll was “rejected, whether today or in the future,” he said.

Saudi Arabia has also urged Barzani to cancel the referendum to avoid further “crises” in the region.

On Thursday, the UN Security Council warned that the referendum was “potentially destabilising”.

The council urged “dialogue and compromise” to address differences between the Iraqi government and the regional authorities.

It also said the vote could weaken the military campaign against the Islamic State group, “in which Kurdish forces have played a critical role”.

Kurds have sought an independent state since at least the end of World War One, when colonial powers divided up the Middle East after the collapse of the multi-ethnic Ottoman Empire.

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