Kurdish Independence Referendum Will Cause Civil War in Iraq, Turkey Warns

Kurdish Independence Referendum Will Cause Civil War in Iraq, Turkey Warns

President of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, Masoud Barzani (left) and Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi are seen here during a meeting in 2016. Photo: Iraqi Cabinet’s press office

The referendum for independence of Iraqi Kurdistan set for September – to which Turkey has been adamantly opposed – will likely lead to a civil war in Iraq, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has declared.

In July, Turkey’s National Security Council (MGK) issued a warning against Iraqi Kurdistan over its independence referendum, which is set for September 25, declaring the vote to be a “grave mistake”.

In June, Masoud Barzani, the President of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq, also known as Iraqi Kurdistan, set a date for a referendum for the region’s independence from the central government in Baghdad.

Three months before that, a KRG spokesman had announced that the autonomous Kurdish-populated region in Northern Iraq, often described as a “semi-state”, might be moving towards independence.

The Kurds are often said to be the world’s largest stateless nation spread out across four Middle Eastern countries (Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran), and the population of Iraqi Kurdistan is just a part of the region’s total population of ethnic Kurds.

After the 2003 War in Iraq, the regional government of Iraqi Kurdistan has established itself as a crucial US ally, and has been gradually acquiring more and more attributes of a state.

The Kurds in Turkey enjoy no autonomy, in spite of their party briefly gaining parliamentary representation in 2016.

The PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party), which for decades has been using violence to fight for the autonomy or independence of the Turkish Kurds, is blacklisted by Turkey, the EU, and the US as a terrorist organization.

The ongoing Syrian Civil War, which began in 2011, has created a window of opportunity for the Kurds populating Northern and Northeast Syria, with their militia, the so called People’s Protection Units (YPG), emerging as an anti-ISIS ally to both the United States and Russia.

Turkey has been opposed to the rise of the YPG and the US and Russian support for it because of its alleged connections to the PKK. However, the Turkish government has enjoyed close cooperation with the government of Iraqi Kurdistan.

Iraqi Kurdistan is comparable to Scotland in both population and territory. It has a population of 5.5 million out of Iraq’s total of 38 million, and a territory of app. 78,000 square km (30,500 square miles).

An Iraqi Kurdish referendum for independence could lead to a civil war in Iraq, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told Turkey’s state broadcaster TRT on Wednesday, as cited by Hurriyet Daily News.

“An independence referendum would only worsen the situation in the country, which is already experiencing a lot of problems. God forbid, it could even lead the country to civil war,” Cavusoglu said, describing the decision to hold the referendum as “extremely wrong.”

“This is a serious risk. We said, are saying and will continue to say, that we are clearly against it. We will do our part in resolving the issues between Baghdad and Erbil,” he added.

Saying different political factors in the Kurdistan Regional Government have been discussing the issue internally, Cavusoglu also argued that “the people themselves are not enthusiastic about the referendum.”

“According to the information we have gathered on the ground, the people are not interested or enthusiastic. The people’s concern is the economy. There are serious economic problems the must be addressed,” he added, stressing that the wider international community also does not support the referendum.

Turkey doesn’t have any problems with “our Kurdish brothers in Iraq or elsewhere,” Cavusoglu stressed, adding that the KRG has been receiving the strongest support from Turkey.

Turkish President Recep Erdogan has strongly criticized the Iraqi Kurdistan referendum plan, calling it “an error” and “a threat” to Iraq’s territorial integrity.

It is noted that Iran also opposes the holding of an independence referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan at such a sensitive time in the region, warning the KRG leadership that the move would be a “grave mistake with serious consequences.”

Meanwhile, Iraqi Kurdish leader Barzani has vowed that “there is no other alternative than independence.”

In a message for the 71st year foundation anniversary of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), Barzani called on the “people of Kurdistan” to support the referendum and the independence process, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency reported.

“This is part of an effort to prevent the repetition of tragedy and to bring about peace and relief,” he said.

Iraq’s Prime Minister Al-Abadi, on the other hand, said “unilaterally drawing new borders” is not in the interest of the Kurds.