President of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), Masoud Barzani, is expected to push for a vote on the independence of the autonomous region on Sept. 25 despite pressure from the international community to call it off. Even though regional actors such as Turkey and Iran and international major powers such as the United States, the European Union and the United Kingdom called on Barzani to postpone the vote, KRG President Barzani will remain adamant in holding the independence referendum, experts say.
"It seems like the referendum will not be postponed. Barzani made the referendum a do-or-die situation for himself," Nurşin Ateşoğlu Güney, dean of the Economics, Administrative and Social Science Faculty at Bahçehir Cyprus, said.
"In spite of all the pressure from major powers, Barzani wants to push for the referendum," Güney added.
On Monday, the Change Movement (Gorran) and the Kurdistan Islamic Group (Komal) in the KRG called for a postponement. The two parties demanded in a joint written statement "procrastinating the referendum for a right time and that decision be made and a law passed for it through the parliament."
According to Güney, Barzani wants to cement his position as "the leader of the Kurdish movement." She said, "Barzani wants to accomplish independence through referendum and gain a political card in the region as the leader of the Kurdish movement."
However, the Bahçeşehir University academic does not believe that the KRG will gain full independence even if the referendum goes through.
"The KRG must become a self-sufficient power economically and politically," she said.
The Ankara bureau of Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) told Daily Sabah that the postponement is an option on the table; however, the international community must make credible and concrete concessions before the KRG takes such a step.
The KDP's Ankara bureau pointed to Barzani's statement that nothing will be able to take the KRG away from its path unless there are lucrative incentives from the U.N., the U.S. and other actors.
The Turkish government vehemently opposes the referendum.
"We would like Iraq to continue as a state of all Iraqis. As such, we do not find it right to create a new problem area in a region that already has many problems. We think that this decision is irresponsible," Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım said in early June.
Also, Turkey's presidential spokesman İbrahim Kalın said in late March that such a move would be "wrong," stressing that Turkey "disapproves bringing up such a matter especially in times when regional security risks are at their highest."
The United States does not favor the referendum either. U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said that the KRG's ambitions were understood, but this was an internal issue of the Iraqi people and that they support "a unified, stable, and democratic Iraq."
Germany has also voiced concerns over plans for independence, saying the decision could further increase tension in Iraq.
"We can only warn against one-sided steps on this issue. The unity of Iraq is on the line," German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel was quoted as saying in a statement in a Reuters report in June.
The status of the Turkmen-populated Kirkuk led to a crisis as well. Ankara has said on several occasions that it is not willing to let the Turkmen-populated city be annexed by the KRG.
The Foreign Ministry previously expressed its frustration and concerns regarding the decision to hold a referendum on the future of Kirkuk, noting that unilateral steps regarding the status of the city will hinder dialogue between officials from various ethnic and religious groups and violate the Iraqi constitution.
Iran also warned the Iraqi province of Kirkuk yesterday against taking part in next month's KRG independence referendum, saying it is "wrong, provocative and unacceptable."
A statement from the Foreign Ministry described the referendum as "dangerous," asserting that it has already been rejected by the Iraqi central government, the U.N. and many countries in the region and beyond.
Per Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution, oil-rich Kirkuk is among the disputed areas, a city that is populated by Kurds, Arabs, and Iraqi Turkmens.
After the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Kurds were given leverage over the city, in a move which has been met with opposition by local Arab and Turkmen populations.
While the administrative statuses of these areas were to be determined through referendums by the year 2007, these referendums have not yet been held due to political turmoil in the country.
Meanwhile, the campaigning period for the referendum officially started yesterday and will last 18 days. Thousands of people poured onto the streets to mark the beginning of the period.