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Iraq’s Kurdish leader, Masoud Barzani, plans to take the Kurds to a landmark referendum. Despite the overwhelming international opposition to this plan, Barzani believes this referendum will bring the Kurds to independence.
Kurdish nationalist movements have advocated for independence since the Orroman Empire broke down, giving birth to the modern Middle East. On the 25th of September, a referendum will be held. A “yes” verdict will begin a separate process from the rest of the country, giving the semi-autonomous region full independence from Iraq.
Many of Iraq’s neighbouring countries with their own Kurdish minorities oppose the vote. Some countries have gone so far as to threaten to undermine any moves to secession. Iraq’s parliament has deemed the vote unconstitutional. Iran and Turkey oppose the vote and the statehood, fearing that Kurdish separation movements in their own countries will be encouraged. Another fear is that a move towards separation will cause instability at a crucial point in the ongoing fight against ISIS. Israel and Russia, huge funders of Kurdish oil and gas deals, are the only major players who haven’t discouraged the move (Israel is the only state to actively encourage the referendum).
Despite these criticisms, Barzani remains adamant. He deemed Iraq a “theocratic, sectarian state. We have our geography, land and culture, we have our own language. We refuse to be subordinates.” Barzani has led the Kurds for twelve years, and he has spent the last two as de facto president.
Some believe that Kurdish leaders don’t actually want a divorce from Iraq; instead, they will use the ‘yes’ vote to force the government to resolve longstanding conflicts over territory and oil sales. One of the biggest points of contention is Kirkurk, which produces up to half-a-million barrels of crude oil daily. There are calls for the Kurds to resolve issues with the government through diplomacy, but both sides are resolutely grounded in their opinions.
With that said, many states are now waiting to see what the referendum results will be before any sure action is taken.