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No Time for Kurdish Independence in Iraq

 In September, the people of Iraqi Kurdistan will embark on a critical path: They are expected to vote overwhelmingly in favor of statehood. Misery, hardship, and a possible war with their neighbors may result.

The Kurds, with a population just short of 30 million, are spread over an area of four countries with nearly 15 million in Turkey, six million in Iran, six million in Iraq, and two million in Syria. Their suffering—through deportations, oppression, discrimination, and genocidal acts—has shaped their ongoing desire for autonomy.

The six million Kurds in Iraqi Kurdistan are governed by a federated system of government that has allowed Kurds greater freedom and opportunity than in any other country in which their ethnic group resides in the region. In Iraqi Kurdistan, a peaceful, and sometimes prosperous existence has given the Kurds all of the trappings of a state. Cultural, educational, and political institutions are controlled autonomously. Many Kurds feel that the formation of a fully autonomous state is the logical next step.

In the past five years, however, Kurdistan has declined [1]. External factors have been significant: the war on ISIS (Islamic State); a global drop in oil prices; economic woes in the region. As a result, salaries for government employees have gone unpaid and the flight of foreign investment has been significant. In addition, neighboring Iran and Turkey, with their large Kurdish populations, are vehemently opposed to a free Kurdistan on their borders for fear of sparking a similar movement in their country. (Both Iran and Turkey, with their powerful militaries, would not hesitate to use their might to stop such movements in their countries. Kurdistan could not win a fight against the military superiority of these nations. Moreover, at present, even though the United States is an ally of the Kurds, current policy does not support statehood for Kurdistan.)

Kurdistan’s internal decline would be destructive to any efforts for statehood. Democratic institutions have faltered. Corruption is rampant. President Masoud Barzani has continued in office for four years beyond his term so far without any elections. Parliament has not met in two years. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and its military force—the Peshmerga—are nearly broke [2]. Income has declined because the central government of Iraq is not paying Kurdistan their share of oil revenue due to the many moves Kurdistan has made that work against the federal government in Baghdad. (For example, Kurdistan built its oil pipeline through Turkey. They negotiated oil contracts directly with the oil companies without the approval of the central government in Iraq).

Barzani’s move to remain as president mirrors those of corrupt leaders throughout the developing world, using the statehood referendum in September 2017 to deflect attention away from his power grab. In a recent Washington Post oped, Barzani advocated strongly [3] for statehood, emphasizing the atrocities Saddam Hussein committed on the Kurdish people in the 1980s and the many agreements broken by the Iraqi government.

Barzani did not address the 2008 constitutional referendum, in which Iraqi citizens voted for a federalist Iraq. This allowed Kurdistan to operate as a semi-autonomous state, free from most of the central government’s intrusions. Nouri al-Maliki [4], the influential vice-president of Iraq and former prime minister, reminds everyone that the 2008 referendum binds the Kurds to follow the constitution within its federal system and government. He has warned that force would be used if necessary to continue that arrangement.

Yet after years of suffering and the desire for self-determination, the Kurds will overwhelmingly vote for statehood. Barzani will likely remain a president for a much longer time, which does not bode well for Kurdistan. Barzani’s party, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) vies for power against the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the largest party rivaling KDP and a more recently formed new party, the Gorran movement (Movement for Change) [5] which (after KDP) became the second-largest party in parliament. Party friction has never been higher. There is much dissatisfaction with the regional government, with the three major parties at each other’s throats.

In recent history, many peoples have aspired to full autonomy, some with success. But history is littered with sad and violent failures [6] of peoples trying to gain their own states or increased power over their homeland. These failed states suffered horrible consequences in dealing with the demands of one faction or another—or civil war. The Balkan Wars in the 1990s, Sudan, Ethiopia, Libya, and Syria are tragic examples of such endeavors.

The Kurds wish to solidify their autonomy with the formation of a state. However, at this point in history, such a move launches Kurdistan on a very uncertain and dangerous path. This is not a viable time for the birth of an independent state in northern Iraq.

Adil E. Shamoo is an associate fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies, a senior analyst for Foreign Policy in Focus, and the author of Equal Worth — When Humanity Will Have Peace [7].

9 Comments (Open | Close)

9 Comments To "No Time for Kurdish Independence in Iraq"

#1 Comment By harry On August 10, 2017 @ 10:33 pm

Who told you that there are 3o million Kurds ?

For your information, Iraqis Kurds are different from Iranians, Syrian and turkey kurds, they have their own languages, beliefs and costumes.

the number is exaggerated and is incorrect

#2 Comment By Aryan Zawity On August 11, 2017 @ 7:39 am

This article contains a lot of incorrect data what indicates that the writer is far away from the reality. He may have collected some information from here and there, but he has failed to provide reasonable analysis since he has been alienated. Were the elections wit regard tot the Iraqi constitution held in 2008 (no it was 2005). Do six miljon Kurds live in Syria. These are some simple of non-analytical nature. I leave the substantive review of the article to you.

#3 Comment By AAM On August 11, 2017 @ 9:05 am

How silly can you get with this article?. Nothing written explains why the Kurds in Iraq should not have the right for referendum on independence

#4 Comment By Slugger On August 11, 2017 @ 9:45 am

Kurdistan is frequently invoked as a good solution to many Levantine problems. I wonder whether this is actually practical. I believe that the Kurds are an ethnicity with their own language, but they are themselves divided by being spread over multiple nations, the Sunni/Shia divide, and at least two opposing armed liberation groups. They have no recent history of being one nation. When we hear about Kurdistan, are we hearing from people who have been there, speak the language, know the customs, or are we hearing from people sitting in armchairs in western cities who think putting a nation together is easy?

#5 Comment By Slugger On August 11, 2017 @ 9:56 am

A further thought now that my coffee has started to work. Will an independent Kurdistan cause Iran, Turkey, or the Sauds to forego their ambitions for primacy in their region? Isn’t this drive for primacy in the region the root of the conflicts?

#6 Comment By Cheryl Benard On August 11, 2017 @ 11:18 am

You’re kidding, right? “Misery, hardship, and a possible war with their neighbors may result” from their long overdue move to independence? Misery, hardship and involvement in wars not of their making, are what the Kurds experience through being tethered to a country they don’t share much of anything with except memories of being persecuted, gassed, and having their language and culture forbidden. They have every right to seek independence and determine their own fate.

#7 Comment By Markus On August 11, 2017 @ 1:17 pm

How many of the States created in the Balkan wars have failed? I think most have not.

#8 Comment By Rehmat On August 11, 2017 @ 4:28 pm

On August 7, 2017, Israel’s former foreign minister Shlomo Ben-Ari in an Op-Ed at the Project Syndicate Org. urged Washington to snatch Muslim Kurd majority territories from Turkey, Iraq, Syria and Iran to establish an Israel-friendly Kurdish state.

The Project Syndicate Org is funded by Jewish billionaire George Soro’s Open Society Institute and Danish Politiken Foundation which publishes country’s anti-Muslim daily Jyllands-Posten.

Currently, Ben-Avi is Vice President of the Toledo International Center for Peace (for Jews occupying Palestine).

After dishing the old Zionist mantra: A Land Without a People for a People Without a Land Ben Avi suggests in order to bring peace and stability in the Middle East, United States and its allies must help Kurds to have their own Kurdistan as they helped Jews to establish a Jewish state in Palestine in 1948.

Ben-Avi claims that Washington’s policy of a unified Iraq is not practical as country’s Shi’ite majority hates country’s Sunni, Kurd and Christian minorities.

“After 14 years of failed military intervention in Iraq, the US should recognize that a unified, stable, democratic, and federal Iraq is a chimera. Since the US-led invasion in 2003, Iraq’s political system has become highly polarized along sectarian lines, with the ruling Shia majority marginalizing the Sunnis, including the Kurds,” said Ben-Avi.

As expected, the paranoid Jew couldn’t control his fear of Islamic Iran.

“Today, Iraq is effectively an Iranian trusteeship, not a US ally. To the dismay of the Kurds and other Sunni Iraqis, Shia militias controlled by the Iraqi and Iranian governments, such as Hashd al-Shaabi, are filling much of the void left behind by ISIS,” said Ben-Avi.


#9 Comment By EliteCommInc. On August 11, 2017 @ 5:45 pm

I want to be sympathetic to the Kurds. and i sure don’t want them subject the reprisals they are sure to receive for embarking on a path of independence predicated on US assistance. But, they have routinely violated agreements.

Iraq provided them saftey, but during the Iraq and Iran war they sided with Iran. Hardly a greatful gesture. During the allied response to Iraqi Kuwait invasion they sided with with the US to over throw Pres Hussein. Now in a bid to hold land nit their own and live off the resources of the same, they poking their fingers in the eye the Iraqi government who grated them some autonomy and even generous revenue for their oil.

The last time the international community alloted them territory for a state they ended up in civil conflict and the entire affair fell apart. Now we are gambling on the notion that we can forcibly c carve out a state of Iraqi proper whether Iraqis approve or not. Despite the that both major factions have made it clear it is something they would not abide.