Tensions continue to rise following the independence referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan:
Iraqi Kurds overwhelmingly voted in favor of independence in a referendum on Monday, which Mr. Ali said obliges Mr. Barzani to negotiate independence from the rest of Iraq. Baghdad has refused to enter such negotiations, and Mr. Ali said that if it maintained that attitude, Kurdistan would be forced to unilaterally declare independence.
A unilateral declaration of independence won’t be accepted by any of the surrounding states, and very few other governments would recognize the new state because of the manner of its separation. Turkey, Iran, and the Iraqi government were already ratcheting up economic pressure on the region because of the vote, but a declaration of independence would likely trigger immediate military responses from one or more of them. The situation has quickly escalated to a point where none of the governments involved is willing to back down or compromise, and that makes it much harder to avoid the worst-case scenario of a major armed conflict breaking out. Both Turkey and Iran fear the creation of a Kurdish state because of the possible implications for the aspirations of their own Kurdish minorities. Ariane Tabatabai explained the Iranian government’s view earlier this week:
Rather than seeing it as a single, contained event, Tehran views it as opening the door to a more comprehensive effort at cleaving the Kurdish territories off Iran, Syria, and Turkey to create a new country in the region.
Because Baghdad opposed the referendum and opposes the creation of a Kurdish state, Turkey and Iran can both dress up their respective responses as helping the Iraqi government to preserve its territorial integrity. If Barzani were reckless enough to follow through on the threat his spokesman made, he would be setting up his new state for a fall. The U.S. should do what it can to dissuade Barzani from doing this, and it should appeal to all of the parties to dial down their rhetoric and refrain from taking any more provocative actions. If tensions continue to escalate as they have over the last week, the disaster that many observers feared will follow.