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A matter of choice

Sep 21,2017 - Last updated at Sep 21,2017

The Kurdistan Region of Iraq appears determined to go ahead with the projected referendum for independence from Iraq on September 25, a move that irks Baghdad — and not only, for, Turkey does not want its restive Kurdish population to go down that road either, and neither does Syria — whose prime minister threatened to intervene militarily if Iraqis feel “threatened by the use of force outside the law”.

“If you challenge the constitution and if you challenge the borders of Iraq and the borders of the region, this is a public invitation to the countries in the region to violate Iraqi borders as well, which is a very dangerous escalation,” said Haider Al Abadi who believes any negotiation with Baghdad about Kurdish independence will be complicated by the referendum.  

The Kurdish referendum is intended to measure support for independence from Iraq for three governorates that make up the autonomous Kurdish region and for disputed areas, like Kirkuk, which are controlled by Kurdish forces but claimed by Baghdad.

Regional and Western powers have tried to dissuade Massoud Barzani, the president of the autonomous Kurdish region, from holding the referendum; the White House called on the Kurds to “enter into serious and sustained dialogue with Baghdad”, while UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres urged them to abandon referendum plans as that would detract from the fight against Daesh and undermine reconstruction efforts and the return of refugees.

Guterres said Sunday that any dispute between the Iraqi government and the Kurdistan regional government should be resolved through dialogue and “constructive compromise”.

Even if the Kurds go ahead and hold the referendum, and even if they vote for separation from Iraq, things are not likely to change.

Abadi said this is a matter for the constitution of the country to decide and the referendum should not be conducted among the Kurdish population alone, as “for them to call for only the Kurds to vote, I think this is a hostile move towards the whole of the Iraqi population”.

Even if the International Court of Justice were approached for a legal opinion, there is clearly conflict between the Iraqi constitution and international law. The former forbids secession of any part of Iraq while the latter recognises the right of people to self-determination as jus cogens, an overriding principle of international law from which no derogation is permitted. 

It seems the issue is deadlocked, at least for now.

Wisdom should guide the Kurds, for, if Baghdad does indeed intervene militarily, the region will witness yet another major conflict it cannot afford to bear.


The road to negotiations should be considered by the Kurds, particularly since Iraq has not closed the door to that possibility.

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