Barzani's dream of independence left for another time

Published 15.06.2017 01:24

Barzani will most likely prefer to provide security for both his and the region's people, leaving an independence referendum for another time

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) announced that it would hold an independence referendum on Sept. 25 after formally informing the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) of its intention last May.

However, as a journalist who has closely followed the Kurdish movements in the region for years, I think that independence for the KRG will be left for another time again.

I stand by my word, which appears to be assertive, even if the referendum takes place in September and ends up as KRG leader Masoud Barzani wishes.

This is because when viewed from the outside, even though the chaotic environment in the region seems to provide favorable conditions for independence for the Barzani administration, this is not the case.

Let's take a look at the reasons.

First, the central government in Baghdad is against the division of Iraq. This attitude stems from the oil fields dominated by the KRG rather than from unitary approaches. For example, just the city of Kirkuk accounts for 600,000 barrels of Iraq's annual oil exports, which total 3.7 million barrels.

If we recall the tone of Baghdad's reaction when Barzani tried to export oil directly himself in 2015, we can more easily understand what the current crisis will lead to.

I do not even mention the "ambush opposition" of Iran-backed Jalal Talabani, who is one of the political rivals of Barzani at home, or the Goran Movement.

The second obstacle to the KRG's independence is neighboring Iran, which fought Saddam Hussein's Iraq for years.

Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Behram Qasimi said in a press conference on May 1: "We support the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Iraq. We are against any division, and we do not accept it. As the Iraqi Constitution stipulates, the Iraqi Kurds have certain rights and laws, but they cannot object to the territorial integrity of the country."

We can look at the U.S.'s approach toward the KRG's perspective on independence. Although Barzani found morale after a visit to Washington in April, the U.S. clearly said "no" to the KRG.

"The United States supports a unified, federal, stable, and democratic Iraq," U.S. State Department Spokeswoman Heather Nauert said about the KRG's independence referendum.

This is because the U.S.'s priority is to fight Daesh. Washington is aware that if the KRG becomes independent, while Daesh and other radical groups have a free hand in its territory, it will turn into a total quagmire.

And finally, let's look at the attitude of Turkey, which has had good relations with the KRG so far. Although Ankara has sided with Barzani in all the crises between the central government and the KRG, it opposes the division of Iraq because it does not want this region, which has become a living area for the terrorist PKK and its Syrian wing, the People's Protection Units (YPG), until recently, to be dominated by a powerless structure that can hand villages over to Daesh in a few days.

Also, it sees that a referendum held in areas of uncertain status like Kirkuk, which are mainly populated by Turkmens, will seriously threaten regional peace.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said in a recent statement on the issue, "Taking a step toward the independency of northern Iraq is a threat to the territorial integrity of Iraq."

Mr. Barzani, with whom we talked about the issue of independence at a meeting in Ankara many years ago, is an experienced and intellectual politician as well as persistent.

I believe that he will prefer the security and future of his people in the short run at such a conjuncture, without removing the idea of independence from the agenda in the long run.

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