Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) President Masoud Barzani continues to insist on holding the independence referendum set for Sept. 25, whereas Ankara remains resolute in objecting to Iraqi Kurdish independence.
"The Kurdish leadership has made that decision and there is no turning back," Barzani said in a recent interview with the al-Hayat daily. "We don't want to repeat the failed experience of the last 100 years with Iraq, which is filled with tragedies. The neighboring countries must understand this and we've explained to them that we are a force for stability and security in the region."Despite Barzani's messages to Ankara to not harm ties due to the referendum, the Turkish government has not changed its position on the issue. "We consider the referendum decision taken by the KRG as a step against the territorial integrity of Iraq," Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said in an interview with the Türkiye daily.
In an attempt to soothe tensions with his increasingly uneasy neighbor, Barzani also said that the referendum "does not mean war against any neighboring country. We seek good relations with them, especially Turkey."However, Çavuşoğlu asserted that insisting on holding an independence referendum would not be beneficial for the KRG or the Iraqi central government. Çavuşoğlu said such a referendum would be likely to further destabilize the already crisis-stricken region.
Ankara has not been alone in opposing the referendum. U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley expressed concern on the planned referendum last month, claiming that it could cause "a distraction from urgent priorities." Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi also said that the upcoming Iraqi Kurdistan independence referendum is not constitutional. Iran has also said that such a referendum would not be appropriate.
The KRG was created in 1970 in an agreement with the Iraqi government, putting years of fighting to an end. Later in 2005, it gained the right to autonomous governance in the constitution, but is still considered part of Iraq.Iraqi Kurdistan, with a population of about 5 million, enjoys a high degree of autonomy, including its own parliament and armed forces, but relations with the central government in Baghdad have nosedived in recent years over a range of issues. These include the sharing of oil revenues and control of some areas that are technically part of federal Iraq but have come under KRG control since 2014 during the war against Daesh.On Tuesday, a group of politicians, journalists and activists launched an opposition campaign in Sulaymaniyah, a city in Iraqi Kurdistan against the upcoming independence referendum. Speaking at a press conference, the NO for the Referendum movement's spokesman Reabun Maruf said that "beginning from today, the NO campaign is officially launched.""This referendum is not a step toward a just and a democratic stateOn the contrary, it is a very dangerous and historical mistake. The referendum would increase the discharge of those purposes as well as the division of the country. Not only will it not contribute to the cause of our public, but it would also result in the loss of both international and regional support," Maruf said.