The leadership of Iraqi Kurdistan has decided to hold a September 25 referendum on independence despite the objections of the Central government in Baghdad. In this regard, the question arises — whether the Kurdish Autonomous region of Iraq (KAR) with its capital in Erbil to actually secede from the current Federal Iraq? And let the dismemberment of Iraq leading players in the “big middle East”? The gravity of the situation adds the fact that the vote will be held in the “disputed territories”, including in the oil-rich Kirkuk. The Central government in Baghdad considers the land their own, but in June 2014 the Iraqi army left in panic in the face of advancing ISIL (terrorist organization banned in Russia — approx. ed.). As a result, to defend Kirkuk and other “disputed territories”, which is densely populated by Kurds, came the forces of the Kurdish militia “Peshmerga”. And now, when ISIL are in retreat, the formation of the Iraqi Shiite-controlled Baghdad, again approaching the disputed regions. Thus, the total victory over ISIS could lead to direct military conflict between Baghdad and Erbil. The Iraqi Kurds already officially announced in Baghdad that after the victory over the “Islamic state” and the capture of Mosul return to the old relations between the centre and the autonomy will not. Indeed, in victory over ISIS, the Kurds (Iraqi and Syrian) has made a far greater contribution than the Central government in Baghdad has killed thousands of soldiers, the region has taken hundreds of thousands of refugees.
What arguments lead organizers of the referendum? They believe that Kurdish autonomy in Iraq has reached a high degree of economic, cultural and linguistic independence: Kurds not willing to live in one state with the Arabs — both Sunnis and Shiites. Besides, the Kurds showed themselves true defenders of their territory against ISIS. In this regard, prescribed in the Constitution of 2005, the paragraph on partial autonomy in Iraqi Kurdistan loses its value.
Yet we are not talking about the creation of a “greater Kurdistan”, but only about an independent Kurdish state in Northern Iraq. How independent? Observers note that the President of the Iraqi autonomy and the leader of the Kurdistan Democratic party (KDP) Massoud Barzani cooperates closely with Turkey, and without this cooperation, the region simply could not survive.
Indeed, the Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan made at the time the bid for the regional government of Iraqi Kurdistan, headed by Barzani, in contrast to the other Kurdish movements, primarily the Kurdistan workers ‘ party. For Ankara the Alliance looked like a “lesser evil”, rather than attempt the formation of a Kurdish state in Turkey. The rapprochement between Ankara and Erbil was observed on both economic and political level. They together opposed the creation of a Kurdish autonomy in northeast Syria. Ankara and Erbil especially dangerous is the fact that this autonomy in Syria will occur under the control of the neo-Marxist “Democratic Union of Kurdistan” — ally “of the PKK” Abdullah Ocalan. Syrian Kurdistan — Rozhava — can become a prototype of the first in the middle East the state dominated by a secular revolutionary ideology of the Marxist type, unlike the semi-feudal regime Barzani. A Kurdish movement Barzani, accused of treason, because he made an Alliance with the Turks against Baghdad and the Kurdistan workers ‘ party, and left in the lurch of the Yezidi Kurds who were exterminated by the ISIS.
Kurdish opposition believes that the planned referendum meets the purely selfish interests of a corrupt clan Barzani, almost turned the Iraqi Kurdistan into their fiefdom. The referendum will allow Barzani to consolidate power and finally to push the main competitor, the ailing Jalal Talabani, leader of Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). In fact, the presidency Barzani has expired more than a year ago, the Parliament is not in session. And now, to unblock the situation and to strengthen his personal power Barzani announces a referendum. Will he manage to stabilize the situation?
Kurdish autonomy in Iraq faces a major economic crisis due to falling world oil prices and the cost of war with ISIS. Played a role and hard measures of Baghdad, which in 2015 has even suspended the payment of Erbil oil revenues from Kirkuk’s oil. The Kurds are trying to establish independent export and sell oil through the pipeline leading to the Turkish port of Ceyhan. But in doing so they put themselves into complete dependence on Turkey. How can you talk about economic independence in these circumstances? Treasury of autonomy is empty, richer a handful of local billionaires and millionaires.
For about ten years — since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003 and the beginning of the ISIS offensive in 2014 — Iraqi Kurdistan has experienced an economic upturn. This was due to the outbreak of the energy exports (including illegal), a major international assistance programmes and trade cooperation with Ankara. In the region have poured billions of dollars, including Turkish investments in Erbil have built skyscrapers and casinos. But significant revenues from the sale of oil and gas were rated by a narrow group of individuals associated with the main parties — the Kurdistan Democratic party (KDP) and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). The region has debt billionaires and five millionaires with a fortune of about half a billion dollars, and only in Iraqi Kurdistan is home to about nine thousand dollar millionaires. However, the situation changed radically after a decade of economic bubble burst in the offensive launched by ISIL and the fall in oil prices. The unemployment rate exceeded 20%, a third of the population lives below the poverty line.
In conditions of economic crisis, many political forces of Iraqi Kurdistan oppose the usurpation of power by the Barzani clan. They require social justice and accused Barzani of failing to carry out reforms. In contrast to the two old parties, the KDP and PUK in Iraqi Kurdistan, a new political movement “Gorran” (change) led by Mustafa Nichervan. Acting under the slogan of fighting corruption, the movement has already become the second party autonomy, receiving a quarter of the seats in Parliament. If the leading political forces do not reach a compromise and agree on the program of socio-political reforms that meet the interests of the majority of Kurds in the region, where the population polls armed, can begin the struggle for power.
The fact that more than 90% of the inhabitants of the Kurdish Autonomous region will vote for independence, for anybody not a secret. However, this will undoubtedly cause a negative reaction of Turkey, Iran, the United States and the Central government in Baghdad. As for the US, which still supported the Kurds as allies in the fight against ISIS, they can change position, for fear of regional instability. But in the first place will dramatically objections of the country where there is a significant Kurdish minority of Turkey, Iran, Syria and the Iraq. The creation of a Kurdish state with its capital in Erbil, creating a dangerous precedent. By the French experts, the Kurdish population in the region is distributed as follows: 18 million people in Turkey, eight million in Iran, seven million in Iraq and two in Syria — about 35 million people. In case of the Declaration of independence of Iraqi Kurdistan, the Turkish leadership, which still cooperated with Irbil, can dramatically change the position and block the pipe leading to Ceyhan. It will mean a complete economic blockade.
And how will react the international community to the annexation of the “disputed territories”? Despite Saddam Hussein’s forced arabization and mass migration of Arabs, the majority in these regions (more than 40 thousand square kilometers) still are Kurds. But formally “disputed territory”, and especially the city of Kirkuk, Sinjar and Khanaqin are under the administrative control of Baghdad. This will automatically make the problem of the disputed territories to the level of international litigation, and here the international community is unanimous stand on the side of Baghdad.