The Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has taken the first step toward an independence referendum, which has been on their agenda for the past couple of years. How should such a step be evaluated in the midst of a critical process? Will this aggrieve the current crisis in the Middle East or offer a new alternative to settle the ever-expanding political crisis? This step at least needs to be taken into account by considering the motivations of the big game in the region and the things the players want to impose. The initial responses of the regional countries are not surprising. From the very beginning, Turkey points that the referendum for independence would not be in favor of Iraq, particularly of the KRG, and be prone to bear some negative consequences that would exacerbate the instability of the current period during which critical developments have occurred in the region. Although this approach draws a general framework and sounds accurate, what is going on in field is another factor. With a strategy dating back to the 1990s, the cards were laid out differently in the region. Now we are confronted with a globalized Kurdish question – not a local one – and a new field where proxy wars are ongoing in line with global interests.
It is a fact that one cannot overcome this issue with policies remaining from the Cold War period. Approaching the region with a new policy is more than necessary. The region has two directions ahead. Either a secular Kurdish state will be formed, which will be dominated by the mindset of the PKK terrorist group and its Syrian offshoot the Democratic Union Party (PYD) that look endearing to the West, or a new political and economic partnership that would encompass the regional countries to be built with a "Turk-Kurd alliance," which Turkey once accomplished.
Turkey took the first step in this respect by developing good ties with the KRG. From infrastructure to military training, Turkey actively contributed to many realms in this region. Therefore, the people of the region favor Turkey.
The development of good ties and the consequent start of the reconciliation process inside Turkey disturbed some power groups. Since then, Turkey has gone through various overwhelming hardships including the attempted coup last year.
Barzani, meanwhile, has also experienced similar things.
Turkey's employment of soft power and efforts to overcome the problems through political and economic channels did not serve the interests of Iran, the U.S. and the EU countries, which claim to be the stronghold of democracy. They condoned and embraced the PKK and the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) for a reason. Consequently, both Turkey and KRG President Masoud Barzani were assaulted.
Over the past years, Barzani has been constantly threatened by the Goran Movement for Change and the PKK, which are backed by Iran and global forces. Also, the role of Daesh, which paved the way for the PKK by attacking first Irbil and then Kobani, in designing the region must also be considered.
Due to this, the PKK-PYD front is currently a significant agent in the Raqqa operation led by the U.S. What will happen next? What will the PKK be employed for in the aftermath of the Raqqa operation? In this context, Barzani has been viewing the independence referendum as a move to turn the political ground in his own favor particularly since 2014. Although this coincides with the projections of departure, it does not directly mean a declaration of independence.
In brief, the KRG leader needs a good card against the PKK, the Goran movement and other Kurdish groups. Those concerned about the future of the region are required to ponder on whether the needed card is independence or something else.