KRG referendum likely to destabilize region, analysts say

DAILY SABAH
ANKARA
Published 22.06.2017 23:10

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) is planning to hold an independence referendum on Sept. 25 that will likely lead to instability in the region, analysts said at panel organized by the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research (SETA) on Wednesday.

The panel titled "The KRG's Quest for Independence" focused on the dimensions of the referendum and how it would impact the region and its stability. Senior adviser to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, İlnur Çevik, said the KRG thinks the independence will be their golden ticket. "However, that is not the situation. This idea will bring many other problems," he said.

Another speaker at the panel, KRG President Masoud Barzani's senior adviser, Hemin Hawrami, said the semi-autonomous region insists on holding the referendum. "This referendum for the independence of Kurdistan is our natural and legal right," he asserted.

Iraq's ambassador to Ankara, Ibrahim al-Alawi, said he understands an independent state for the Kurdish region and its people is a dream. "However, we would like to see how it can be carried out without making the already complex situation in the region more complicated," he said.

Çevik questioned how the KRG would fare with a small budget if it were to gain independence after the referendum. "Turkey is in favor of a unified Iraq. A divided Iraq would lead to instability in the region. Turkey does not want that," he said.

Former head of the Nahrain Center, Hamza Cuburi, said the solution to the problems were in the Iraqi federal system. "The formation of a new state in Iraq would lead to problems, not only in Iraq, but also in Turkey, Iran and the region as a whole," he argued.

KRG President Masoud Barzani announced the vote on Twitter on June 7. The announcement came after Barzani met with Kurdistan's political parties earlier in that day, the Kurdish TV station Rudaw reported.

Meanwhile parliamentary elections are expected to be held on Nov. 6. Iraq's Kurdish region, with a population of about 5 million, already enjoys a high degree of autonomy, including its own Parliament and armed forces. But relations with the central government in Baghdad have declined in recent years over a range of issues. These include the sharing of oil revenues and the control of some areas that are technically part of federal Iraq but have come under Kurdish control since 2014 during the war against Daesh.

Since the Gulf War in 1991, the region has enjoyed de facto autonomy under U.S. protection and has seen significant economic development largely due to its oil and gas reserves and strong trade links with Turkey.

Iraqi Kurdistan was created in 1970 after an agreement with the Iraqi government, putting years of fighting to an end. Later in 2005, it gained autonomous governance status in the constitution but is still considered part of Iraq.

The KRG's decision to hold a referendum was slammed by the PKK terrorist group as well. The PKK's senior leader, Duran Kalkan, defined the KRG referendum decision as "propaganda" and said, "The Kurdish people do not need a state."

Speaking to the Kurdish Nerina Azad news outlet, Kalkan said the idea of an independent Kurdish state was first brought forth by the PKK, and he accused the KRG of "trying to discredit the PKK in the eyes of the public."

It is feared that the KRG's independence may lead to a war for influence in the region between the KRG and the PKK, a group listed as terrorist organization by the U.S., the EU, and Turkey.

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