Iraqi Kurdistan has been granted an independence referendum despite significant opposition from government bodies. President of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Masoud Barzani has scheduled the vote for September 25. Following a century of violence and conflict, the vote is a huge step in the creation an autonomous Kurdish state. Fundamentally, the planned referendum aims to re-examine the balance of power between the Baghdadi government and Kurdish population living in northern Iraq. However, the vote will impact Kurdish populations in Syria and Turkey too.
KRG leader Barzani revealed the vehement opposition the group faces in regards to the referendum. “We are being pressured day and night to postpone the poll, but we won’t repeat the mistakes of the past,” Al Jazeera reported. The Turkish state, which has consistently opposed Kurdish independence, threatened the group with sanctions in light of the poll. This comes after previous measures of support for the group, under the premise of existing under pre-existing state structures. Undoubtedly, the independence of Kurdistan has significant implications for neighbouring states. Iran, in particular, has specific apprehensions towards the vote. Autonomy for Kurdistan could signify a revival of Kurdish factions who have perpetrated a series of attacks on the Iraqi and Turkish regimes over the past two years.
The potential independence for the ethnic group who have previously faced grave persecution and neglect from the state is a step towards national and international peace. Given the violence that has spurred from their fight for independence, the prospect of liberation will undoubtedly subdue frustrations on the Kurdish side.
Although showing substantial opposition to their independence, Turkey has attempted to create links with the Kurdish population, transforming their economic relationship with the group into a “regional security arrangement.” The state has worked to invest resources in the Kurdish regions, including pipelines, which produce and export hydrocarbons. Fellow neighbouring states should set aside their differences to work collectively towards a peaceful independence for the group.
The Kurds are an ethnic group found in Turkey, Iraq and Syria. Following discrimination from their respective states, Iraqi Kurdistan was formed, with formal recognition within the Iraqi constitution. However, a no-fly zone was established over northern Iraq in 1991, which facilitated two dominant parties, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), to promote their autonomous agendas. Given their geographic surroundings in Turkey, Iran and Syria, they faced constant attempts to dismantle their new entity, for both geopolitical and domestic reasons. This was achieved primarily through inciting division among the parties and by proposing incentives to rival groups.
This referendum is not the first of its kind, with the Kurdish elections in 1992 laying the foundations for autonomy.
Western powers have condemned the treatment of the Kurds by their governing bodies and demonstrated support for the group. The presence of terrorist groups in the Kurdish regions has produced a new dimension to the conflict, against which the group has proven to be relatively successful in their battle.
If successful, the referendum could further Kurdish aspirations for independence and resolve long-term conflict in the region. Autonomous sovereignty for the Kurds has several significant implications, first and foremost the just treatment of a previously persecuted ethnic group. Given the group’s successes in combating global terror groups, an independent Kurdistan would also correlate directly with increased regional security.
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