On Sept. 25, if the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq goes ahead with its threat to hold a referendum on independence, it will lead to certain disaster not only for the Kurds of Iraq but also for Iraq and our region as a whole.
The Kurds of Iraq have made great gains in the past decade-and-a-half thanks to the disarray in Baghdad. Independence may well mean the loss of all these gains overnight and a dark future for them.Iraq is already suffering from deep divisions, secessionist trends and a menace called Daesh that has created deep trauma in the country. The fact that the fight against Daesh is far from over and the potential sectarian divisions remain a major threat means any independence move by the Kurds will not only seriously hurt the territorial integrity of Iraq but will also tear the country apart with repercussions that are hard to even determine at this stage. What is clear is that it will add to the instability that has been created in Iraq and Syria and thus the whole region.
So the international community, the friends of the Kurds of Iraq and the Baghdad government have to dissuade the Masoud Barzani administration not to go ahead with the referendum next month. But for this Barzani has to be shown a way out of the current mess.
Baghdad is run by Shiite Arabs under the influence of Iran. Baghdad has committed numerous mistakes to alienate the Sunni Arabs and Kurds of Iraq.
At first the Americans were a part of the mistakes committed against the Sunni Arabs that pushed them into the hands of al-Qaida terrorists. However, the Americans realized their mistakes and befriended the Sunni Arab tribes and made amends. But once the Americans withdrew from Iraq and handed full control to the Shiite Arabs who were deeply influenced by Iran, the Sunnis were systematically alienated and frustrated to such an extent that they joined forces with Daesh to push the Shiite-dominated Iraqi army out of Mosul and a major chunk of Iraq.
Now the Shiites have managed to recapture Mosul. Let us hope they realize they have to win the Sunni Arab hearts and souls instead of massacring them and creating perennial enemies.
The same negative Shiite Arab attitude of denying funds for the Kurds of Iraq, trying to scuttle their administration and making life hell for the Kurds have also alienated the people of the KRG. Financial problems, growing domestic woes and political bickering among the Kurds have pushed Barzani into a corner. The Kurds of Iraq want him to solve their problems. Most have the impression that independence may be the golden prescription to solve their woes. Most Kurds do not even understand or care for the referendum.
Kurdish intellectuals and especially the elite in the Sulaymaniyah region are questioning the merits of the referendum. They feel that the region has not done anything to lay the foundations for an independent Kurdish region and that a referendum will only mean certain disaster.
All these are fine and show that Barzani has to give up this adventure. Yet this is easier said than done. The friends of the Kurds of Iraq have to help Barzani out of this mess. They have to show him a way out. This cannot be done with threats and criticism. Thus Baghdad has to shoulder the responsibility of showing the Kurds that the policies that have alienated them will be terminated and that they have everything to gain if they remain a part of united Iraq.