The Kurdish referendum

The Kurdish referendum

The countdown has started and the clock is ticking very loudly to warn the Iraqi Kurds that their referendum vote for independence, scheduled to take place on Sept. 25, is loaded with a potential disaster not only for northern Iraq but a bigger geography spanning Iraq, Turkey, Syria, Iran and probably beyond. 

With a romantic approach or with the “an ally is in the making” calculations of the Jewish state, the potential dangers ahead posed by such a vote might be ignored. To say the least, what is the Kurdish population of northern Iraq? What is the population of northern Syria? How many Kurds are living in Iran? And, what is the percentage of the Turkish Kurds among the overall 30 million Kurdish population spread in the four countries?

To the pundits wondering why no other country in the region - excluding Israel - or among the global powers support the Iraqi Kurdish referendum decision, the region has more than enough problems. Indeed, since the First World War the region has always been problematic this way or the other. No one should, of course, put the entire blame on the British, French, Italians or the Americans, who at varying degrees contributed to shaping the region. Particularly, no one should claim that the entire problem of the Iraqi Kurdish independence referendum is all about the American, British and Israeli security needs. It is no secret that the British and American security and intelligence networks have been buried deep in the Iraqi Kurdish independence referendum business even if officially the two states have been warning the Kurds not to go down that road that might force the Turks to open the Pandora’s box.

Turkey, like Syria, Iraq and Iran, has always been against the establishment of a Kurdish state. Since 1984, Turkey has been fighting a separatist Kurdish terrorist campaign. Unfortunately, Turkey’s allies and “good neighbors” have officially been condemning the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) gang but also directly or indirectly providing it all kinds of assistance, including heavy arms. Was Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan wrong when he complained at a recent meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump that the United States was not selling certain weapons systems to Turkey but donating them to the Syrian Kurds for free despite Turkey’s persistent warnings that all those arms were ending up in the hands of the PKK?

Of course, no one can deny the right to statehood for any group of people wishing to walk and endure the pains of such a road. Yet, if a certain ethnic group, let’s say in Spain or France would like to go down that road, not only that group but the entire population of the country must participate in the vote, as the aftermath would affect everyone on that land. Iraqi Kurds cannot decide on their own. They already have a centralized government provided by the Iraqi constitution. They receive their own share from natural resources of the country and prosper. Unlike Turkey, they have no cultural or social problems today because they are ethnically different than the majority of the people of Iraq. Yes, there were problems in the past. For many years, particularly under the Saddam Hussein regime, they suffered a lot and survived genocidal attacks. No one can forget and forgive the Halabja tragedy.

If there is an assumption, as the Iraqi Kurdish leaders and their Israeli supporters have been saying, the passage of the referendum would not immediately lead to statehood but it would represent a major move forward that might open the door of negotiations with the Baghdad government, it is wrong. The northern Iraqi government has been assuming that the Americans will not let the Baghdad government take military action. If what’s at stake is the very existence of Iraq, what might be the attitude of the Iraqi government might not be so guaranteed. The recent statement of top executives of Iran, Iraq and Turkey, increased contacts between the two countries, increased military maneuvers with live ammunition by Turkish tanks right on the Iraqi border indicate that perhaps Turkey might not be joking at all when it was warning the Iraqi Kurds that they are expected to scrap all together the referendum plans if they do not face the consequences.

What might be the consequences? Rather than military action, Turkey might undertake a series of economic punitive measures, including declaring an embargo and cutting Turkish electricity going into the region. Even if it might be in alliance with the Baghdad government and in line with Lausanne Treaty and the 1926 Ankara agreement with the British, the Turkish military operation might bring catastrophe to the entire region, headed by Turkey.

Still, Kurds insisting on the referendum will further destabilize the region and irreparably divide Iraq, to say the least.