Barzani ignites conflict with opportunistic independence vote

SHAKIR HUSAIN
Published 06.10.2017 20:56
Updated 06.10.2017 20:57

If Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) President Masoud Barzani's standards for independence are applied globally, Switzerland would be broken up into multiple countries, Canada would produce a few sovereign nation-states and the United States would become a fragmented piece of land.

Despite appeals and warnings from Iraq's neighbors and other countries, the KRG did not abort its flawed and legally groundless referendum for independence from Baghdad.

In the heat of political passion, the KRG leader is perhaps unmindful of the disasters that may unfold if his move threatens Iraq's territorial integrity or poses challenges to Turkey and Iran's security.

If Barzani is not listening to Turkey and Iran, then he must be taking counsel from those who harbor animosity toward Middle Eastern countries and plot conflicts among the region's various communities.

Israel is one such hostile force that always reaps the fruits of any Middle Eastern disunity. Its flags were waved during the referendum. The KRG vote apparently has gladdened Israeli bosses and the vultures outside the region.

Leaving aside how these hostile elements view the vote, which received more than 90 percent approval, reminiscent of Iraq's dubious Baathist traditions, its logical to expect that there will be serious regional steps in the coming days and months to reverse the KRG's irresponsible act conducted in illegally.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has called Barzani's Sept. 25 vote an act of treachery that will have consequences.

Having supported the KRG all these years in a spirit of brotherhood and friendship, Turkey has every right to be upset about the recklessness shown by Barzani.

"This referendum decision, which has been taken without any consultation, is treachery," Erdoğan said.

"They don't have an idea on how to be a state. They think that they are a state just by saying it. This can't and won't happen."

Barzani and those advising him have clearly not been thinking about the fallout of the voting exercise, which has procedures less credible than under the former Baathist regime.

If you do not possess the attributes of statehood, why indulge in needless gambits?

With Turkey's help and support, the KRG for years enjoyed tremendous autonomy in economic, security and political matters. All that is now at risk.

Israel's role in this whole affair is visible, but proactive Turkish and Iranian efforts should be able to neutralize hostile actors who may want to destabilize the Muslim region using the KRG.

Another Israel is not needed, as one is enough to torment the region.

If the Iraqi government moves to take control of the airports and border points, it will be a major setback to Barzani's schemes.

Turkey has clearly hinted at economic and security steps that will have a sobering effect on those clamoring to break up Iraq. Ankara may also have to intervene militarily if attempts are made to further marginalize the Iraqi Turkmen community.

Once the KRG's current revenue streams founder, Barzani can rest assured no cargo planes loaded with cash will arrive in Irbil – Israel and those of its ilk only know how to siphon off money from conflict zones. The neocon model of American wars is based on turning places into zones of human and drug trafficking, arms trading and unending violence. Afghanistan and Iraq are two examples of this, and any Western instigation for the KRG vote is part of new plots.

Amid Iraq's troubles, the KRG has fared well, thanks to Turkey's goodwill. This goodwill is now being squandered. It is a different ball game if Barzani wants to turn the KRG into a base for destabilizing the whole region. That is why there is no appetite for another Israel.

One immediate result of the vote is that Turkey and Iran, the countries that matter most to Iraq in tackling its new challenges, will not easily trust the KRG leadership and Barzani. Still, Barzani should try to explain what he wants exactly.

The KRG obviously wants to use the unilateral vote with its myriad flaws as a negotiation tool with Baghdad in grabbing more power.

A firm attitude from Iraq's central administration can ensure that this independence project is stillborn.

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has said: "The Iraqi government will never give up on the unity and sovereignty of the country, hence we will not negotiate on the results of the referendum."

Along with its absolute rejection of the referendum, Baghdad can also blunt Barzani's secessionist moves by genuinely accepting Iraq's multi-ethnic character. Sectarianism should never be allowed to take hold of government and society. Iraq needs an economy in which all of its communities enjoy an enduring stake, strengthening the country's territorial integrity and unity.

Iraq's ethnic realities require joint efforts to find acceptable solutions to the economic ills and violence plaguing the nation, especially since the U.S. invasion of 2003.

Granting legitimacy to the KRG vote would mean the sizable Turkmen community could also demand similar rights of independence with their own parliament, defense force and a national currency.

Iran and Turkey should nip the KRG's destabilization project in the bud before it gets ugly with the help of the Western war industry and other enemies of the Middle East.

* India-based journalist

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