Iraqi Kurd’s Have Voted Overwhelmingly For Independence From Iraq

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

Iraqi Kurds have voted overwhelmingly in favor of declaring independence from Iraq in a historic and controversial referendum that could have wide-ranging implications for the Middle East.

More than 92% of the roughly 3 million people who cast valid ballots on Monday voted “yes” to independence, according to official results announced by the Kurdish electoral commission on Wednesday.
The outcome represents a step towards independence for the semi-autonomous region in northern Iraq and areas it claims, and puts Kurdish authorities on a collision course with their counterparts in Baghdad.
The poll took place despite vehement opposition from the Iraqi government, which described it as unconstitutional and has authorized use of force against Iraqi Kurdistan.
The Kurdistan Regional Government, however, says the referendum will give it a mandate for talks to secede from Iraq, although Baghdad has already ruled out such talks.

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Who are the Kurds? 01:40
On Wednesday, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi called for the referendum to be annulled and for the KRG to engage in dialogue as guided by the constitution. His comments come a day after he ordered the Kurds to yield control of their airports to the central government by Friday.
Several international flight operators have announced plans to cease flights to the region on Friday, including Egypt Air and Royal Jordanian Airlines. Iran closed its airspace on Sunday.
Nearly all neighboring regional powers objected to the referendum, warning that independence could further destabilize the region.
On Tuesday, KRG President Masoud Barzani hailed the preliminary results and urged the world to “respect the will of the people of Kurdistan.”
“Let’s engage in a serious dialogue and become good neighbors,” Barzani said during a televised speech.

Barzani appears at a pro-independence rally in Irbil on Friday.

The vote was held across the autonomous region and in disputed territories including the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, a flashpoint city claimed by both sides.
It comes as Kurdish forces play an instrumental role in the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. In helping to eliminate the terror group, Kurdish leaders appear to have expected the backing of the international community in pursuing nationalist aspirations.
But the referendum has received little support outside northern Iraq.
Both Iran and Turkey have sizable Kurdish minorities and fear the ballot might galvanize independence movements in their countries.
The United States, United Kingdom and the United Nations denounced the vote amid concerns that it could detract from the campaign against ISIS.
As voters cast their ballots Monday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan described the referendum as “illegal” and suggested Turkey could cut off oil exports from northern Iraq, depriving the KRG of a key source of revenue.
On Wednesday night, after the announcement of the voting results, Irbil’s main square was quiet — a sharp contrast to the revelry on the streets the night of the vote.
“I’m afraid of the situation,” said Ahmad Tayeb, 30, an Arab from Anbar who now lives in Irbil. “As Arabs, we’re worried that clashes in Kirkuk will lead to revenge on us here.”
Bewyar Abdullah, 28, a peshmerga fighter who was injured during war on Isis in Mosul, said he was at the square with friends. They expected large gatherings and fanfare but found none.
“Actually, I want to be split from the Arabs … For that reason I voted to break away from them,” he said. “We don’t understand why there are no celebrations.”
Israel is the only country in the region that supported the vote, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu endorsing what he described as “the legitimate efforts of the Kurdish people to achieve their own state.”
European Union leaders issued a statement on Wednesday calling on all parties involved to “exercise calm and restraint” and to resolve their issues through peaceful dialogue.
Numbering 30 million, Kurds make up a sizable minority in a number of Middle Eastern countries, including Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey.
Despite nearly a century of Kurdish nationalist movements in various countries, the Kurds have never had a nation of their own.

Why a Referendum Won’t Solve Iraqi Kurdistan’s Problems

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Opinion

Why a Referendum Won’t Solve Iraqi Kurdistan’s Problems

There’s a lingering impression in Washington that Iraqi Kurdistan is what it was five years ago, before the rise of ISIS: a peaceful, prospering, emerging pro-Western democracy whose aspirations for full independence from Iraq are increasingly hard to ignore.

Unfortunately, a great deal has changed since then, thanks to war, the US retreat from the region and the Kurds’ own dysfunctions. As the ISIS slowly crumbles to its south and west, Kurdistan is politically and economically broken. President Masoud Barzani remains in office four years after his term ended, and parliament has not met in almost two years. The government is deeply in debt and can scarcely afford to pay the three-quarters of the workforce who are state employees. The army and security services are divided into rival factions.

Barzani’s reaction to this distress has been to schedule a referendum on Kurdish independence for Sept. 25. The initiative has been rejected not just by the Iraqi federal government, but also by Kurdistan’s powerful neighbors Iran and Turkey, as well as the United States. More significantly, it is being viewed even by staunchly pro-independence Kurds as evidence that the region’s politics have reached a dangerous dead end.

The referendum is “an excuse by Kurdish leaders to remain in power,” says Shaswar Abdulwahid Qadir, the owner of Kurdistan’s independent NRT television network. “The younger generation doesn’t know anything about their fight in the mountains against Saddam Hussein. So the old leaders need another excuse to run the country for another 26 years.”

Those bitter words reflect Qadir’s perspective as one of a rising generation of Kurds — and Iraqis — struggling over how to create stable political institutions and a working economy amid the mess of sectarian conflicts, extremist movements and corrupt establishments littered across the post-ISIS landscape.

An independent television network is, at least, a place to start. While most Iraqi media are controlled by the government or political parties, Qadir is one of Kurdistan’s few self-made magnates: Born in the city of Sulaymaniyah, he started peddling electronic games as a teenager and became one of Kurdistan’s largest real estate developers before founding NRT in 2011, at the age of 32.

Launched under the slogan “courage, balance, truth,” the network saw its first office attacked and burned within a week of opening; Qadir blames militants from the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), one of the region’s two historical political forces. Two years later he survived an assassination attempt. Kurdish authorities have closed NRT’s offices and arrested its journalists on multiple occasions. Yet it has persisted and flourished: It now has two Kurdish channels, an Arabic channel covering all of Iraq, and an English-language website.

A referendum, Qadir says, might prompt Turkey to shut down that pipeline, through which Kurdistan exports the relative trickle of petroleum that is its only reliable revenue. It also might cause the Turks and Iran to back opposing factions of the army, which is divided between the PUK and Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party, triggering a resumption of the civil war they fought in the 1990s.

“What kind of Kurdistan would we have?” Qadir asked. “Would we have South Korea or South Sudan?”


The Washington Post