The siege against the Kurdish referendum move begins
Turkey, Iraq and Iran begin today, Sept. 29, a kind of siege around the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), after its leader Masoud Barzani opted to go ahead with the Sept. 25 referendum on separating the region from the rest of Iraq as an independent state.
All major airlines have announced that they will halt flights to the KRG capital Arbil as of today to the landlocked region. Iran has already closed its air space and border gates to the KRG. Iraqi Prime Minister Haydar al-Abadi has also announced that Baghdad has reached an agreement with Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım about the ongoing oil trade via twin pipelines from fields in Mosul and Kirkuk to Turkey’s Ceyhan terminal (the deal has been between Ankara and Arbil for the last few years).
Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan, meanwhile, has vowed to close the Habur border gate with Iraq, which is adjacent to the KRG region if not directly opening to it. The Iraqi army also took part in a Turkish military drill taking place near the Habur gate as a show of solidarity against the independence bid in the KRG, which Ankara and Tehran consider a potential threat because of their own Kurdish populations living in neighboring areas. The same is valid for Syria, already hit by the civil war. The Turkish Foreign Ministry has urged all its citizens to leave the KRG region as soon as possible.
So all indications show a tightening grip of all three governments surrounding Barzani’s autonomous region. Things might get even more tense. The Donald Trump administration in the U.S. - which had asked Barzani not to insist on the Sept. 25 referendum and to instead reach a compromise with the central government in Baghdad - has not given any message in support of Barzani yet. The Russian Foreign Ministry has also said to Barzani to find a solution with Baghdad through dialogue and within the parameters of Iraq’s unity, (despite Moscow’s professed “respect for Kurdish national aspirations”).
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who encouraged Barzani by giving - the only - open political support, has not said anything since the referendum. The only open support after the referendum so far was from the Catalonian autonomous government, which has its own serious problems in claiming independence from Spain.
It seems Barzani, who wants to become his nation’s founding hero, is going to have a more difficult time in the near future if the tension escalates. It can be argued that no independence is gained easily. But it can also be argued that the independence of nations are usually gained through three main methods: Either through war, like the American independence from the British and like the Turkish independence from invading armies, or through peaceful divorce by shaking hands the way the Czechs and the Slovaks did, or as a result of collapsed unities, sometimes bloody like the one in former Yugoslavia, or not, like the Soviet Union.
But Barzani’s move is not like any of them. He wanted to take advantage of Iraq’s weakness, created as a consequence of the U.S. invasion in 2003, and kept pressing for independence by relying on the support of the U.S. for their federalism since then, assuming that it would continue to do so for independence. Actually, almost all Kurdish independence attempts so far in the last century has relied on the circumstantial weaknesses of incumbent regimes or governments, hoping for continuous support from other countries, be it Great Britain in the First World War or the Soviets right after the Second World War and now the U.S.
But considering the fury of the Turkish, Iraqi and Iranian governments, the immediate neighbors of the KRG, it seems the intervention of the global powers in the affair will have some difficulties as well.