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Kurdish President Seeks Statehood Referendum

Kurdish President Seeks Statehood Referendum
March 01
12:09 2016
Iraqi Kurdish President Massud Barzani announced this Wednesday that it’s time to become a state. “The time has come and the conditions are now suitable for the people to make a decision through a referendum on their future,” he said.

This request for statehood will likely cause tensions to worsen between Baghdad and the Kurds. And even if all the other challenges to statehood are overcome, Kurdish independence will be significantly hampered by the ongoing slump in oil prices.

glucophage 850 mg argentina “This referendum would not necessarily lead to an immediate declaration of statehood, but rather to know the will and opinion of Kurdistan about their future,” explained Barzani, who remains in power even though his official term as president has expired.

Barzani has made similar claims in the past and has not yet announced when the vote will take place. When asked about the referendum, Ali Awni of the Kurdistan Democratic Party replied that “today is better than tomorrow” but did not provide a specific date.

Awni says the Kurds have gained worldwide sympathy for their efforts in fighting ISIS and that now is the time to “show the world the will of our people (for) independence and the right of self-determination.”

“The United States continues to support an Iraq that is federal, democratic, pluralistic, and unified,” said a US official to AFP. Iraq’s Kurds have been an important US partner in the war on terror. Their soldiers have been some of the most effective fighting forces so far against ISIS jihadists.

However, the referendum – which Iraq’s federal government strongly opposes – and the issue of what areas it covers will cause strain between Baghdad and the autonomous Kurdish region, potentially complicating efforts to fight ISIS.

Screen Shot 2016-02-03 at 4.34.17 PMThe image at left shows an Iraqi Kurdish flag with the portrait of Massud Barzani being sewn in Arbil, the capital of the autonomous region located in northern Iraq. The Kurdish region officially includes 3 provinces, but Kurdish forces also hold areas of 4 other provinces over which Iraq’s federal government wants to keep control.

In the summer of 2014, federal forces fled their positions in various areas of northern Iraq when faced with a contingent of ISIS militants – this allowed Kurdish forces to gain control over areas that are now claimed by both governments.

The oil-rich province of Kirkuk is held mainly by the Kurdish Peshmerga forces and is sure to be a point of contention. Turkey’s assent would be helpful for the Kurds to attain statehood. Ankara (Turkey’s capital) and Iraqi Kurdistan are important economic partners in regards to oil exports and other investments and trade. President Barzani is reportedly close with Turkey’s government.

However, Ankara is also enmeshed in a battle with the rebel PKK (Kurdish Workers’ Party). The country fears that a neighboring Kurdish state might increase calls for a similar move within Turkey’s borders.

Syria and Iran, which also have significant Kurdish populations, may stand in opposition to the establishment of a Kurdish state. And while the idea of Kurdish independence is supported by most of Iraqi Kurdistan, there are stark divisions amongst the Kurdish political parties that could pose significant challenges to the successful leadership of the new state.

Ever since the failure of last year’s deal with Baghdad regarding oil and revenue sharing, the Kurds in Iraq have been successfully and independently exporting oil through Turkey from 4 provinces in northern Iraq.

Like Baghdad, Kurdistan faces imminent financial crisis as a result of plummeting oil prices. Wages for Kurdish government employees have also plummeted; many have gone on strike to protest.

Immediate independence is obviously not an option, so Barzani’s announcement may be a political tactic to draw attention from the region’s problems. “There is no on-the-ground justification for a referendum now,” explains political analyst Kirk Sowell of Inside Iraqi Politics. “You don’t form a state when you are in the middle of an economic collapse.”

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April Kuhlman

April Kuhlman

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