On 25 of September 2017, a referendum was held that indicated that just over 92% of Kurds were in favour of Kurdish secession from Iraq. The Iraqi Court ruled the vote unconstitutional, and stated that no region shall gain independence. Consequently, tensions between the Kurdish region and Iraq’s central government flared as a result of this ruling, ultimately giving the Iraqis the upper hand.
Prior to the vote, Iraqi government forces took control of Kirkuk and other Kurdish territories that were involved in the dispute. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abdi commented that he was dedicated to “preserving Iraq’s unity and preventing any attempt for separation.” After the ruling, Abadi, advised the Iraqi Kurds to accept the court’s decision. He further called on the region to “clearly state its commitment to non-separation or independence from Iraq.” The ruling shows the legal measures the country is willing to take in order to maintain peace and unity in a problematic situation that causes unrest and apprehension.
Tensions between the Kurdish population and the Iraqi central government have existed for many years. In 2005, a similar ‘unofficial’ referendum showed that 98% voted in favour of independence. The Kurdish desire for self-determination can be seen as irrepressible. The perceived illegal vote illustrated this, although there were many who opposed to the referendum. While the vote was ruled unconstitutional, one can determine from this that there are a significant number of Kurdish Iraqis who desire their right to complete autonomy.
The Iraqi court’s jurisdiction continues to settle disputes between the Iraqi central government and the regions within the country. Its decisions are binding for all of the parties involved, however in this situation, it has no ability to enforce its ruling in the Kurdish region. While the issue of sovereignty and respect for Kurdish power has been ruled upon by the Iraqi court, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) had previously requested peaceful dialogue to solve this issue. The aim of which, was to allow the Kurdistan region to be recognised as a united entity, rather than simply semi-autonomous regions located in the north of Iraq.
The United Nations mission in Iraq has expressed support for Abadi’s desire for respect for the ruling, stating, “[the] UNAMI urges the Government of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq to acknowledge, endorse and respect this ruling of the Federal Court and reiterate its full commitment to the Constitution.” The UNAMI further emphasized the need for dialogue and negotiations between the two governments. Ex-Kurdish Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani previously committed to resolving the issue peacefully, through diplomacy rather than hard power.
Overall, this outcome is certainly commendable and signals the possibility that a peaceful resolution can be achieved.