With their controversial referendum for independence only a bit more than a month away, Iraqi Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani is telling his close circle that, with the exception of Iran, no country actually opposes Kurdish independence…
Is this a joke?
Barzani is reportedly saying some countries like the United States oppose the "timing" of the referendum while others like Turkey actually gave their tacit approval but pretend they oppose it.
While independence has been a dream for many Kurds, they have been pragmatic over the years and have said they do not expect an independent Kurdish state on Iraqi soil or anywhere else during their lifetime. Even Masoud Barzani has been saying this on record in the past.
For those who have been experiencing the growing pain of economic hardships in the areas run by the Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq, "independence" has been promoted as a golden word that will magically end their misery. Many Kurdish intellectuals have started to see this as a great big lie used to dope the masses.
One Kurdish intellectual who asked not to be named said very openly "independence will be a total disaster as we have not done our homework properly and we are not ready for such a major move." He means the deep administrative, social, economic and ideological splits between Irbil and Suleimaniyah.
From the outside is looks as if the KRG has a united government and a cohesive administrative structure. In reality, it is very different. Suleimaniyah plays its own game, runs its own show and is run by its people from Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Goran Movement of the late Nourshirvan Mustafa. Suleimaniyah even accuses Turkey and Barzani of selling the oil that is extracted from their territory and never giving them their cut.
The PUK is skeptical of the referendum but cannot openly oppose it because the call for independence is very popular in Suleimaniyah as it is in other parts of the KRG region.
However, even the most nationalist Kurds have reportedly started questioning the merits of a referendum for independence as they have started to understand that they could well be isolated and cut off from the outside world with no financial means to sustain a state.
Observers say the Kurds may wipe away all the political and social gains they have managed to make in the post-Saddam era.
Turkey has strongly opposed the referendum. It has told the Barzani administration over and over again that such a move is unacceptable to Ankara. KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani was called to a special meeting with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan who told him this was a mistake. Yet we hear from Kurdish politicians close to Barzani that they are still telling their people that Ankara in essence does not oppose Kurdish independence in Iraq and they do not want to make this public so as not to anger the Turkish public. That is absolute rubbish.
Turks do not impose sanctions that will hurt their brothers and sisters anywhere in the world, let alone their relatives in the KRG region. They will not deny the KRG food and basic stuff like electricity. But some economic and political measures will be inevitable. However, Ankara has to spell openly what the KRG should expect the day after the referendum if the vote ends in favor of an independent state and then carry out that threat.