Home/Daniel Larison/The Dangers of the Kurdish Referendum

The Dangers of the Kurdish Referendum

The plan to hold an independence referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan next week has run into a new obstacle:

Iraq’s supreme court has approved a request by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to suspend an independence referendum that the country’s Kurdistan region planned to hold later this month.

The court said Monday the vote will be on hold until it reviews cases regarding the constitutionality of the vote.

The referendum will probably still take place, and the Kurdish parliament endorsed proceeding with the vote on Friday, but the ruling confirms that Baghdad won’t view it as legitimate. The court ruling comes on the heels of warnings from the Iraqi prime minister that Baghdad is prepared to use force if the referendum results in violence. Abadi also raised the prospect that the referendum would serve as an invitation to other governments to meddle in Iraqi affairs:

“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,” al-Abadi said.

The inclusion of Kirkuk in the referendum has already prompted threats from Iraqi Shia militias to attack the city if it becomes part of an independent Kurdistan, and having the disputed city take part in the vote has made it even more likely that holding the referendum will provoke a new round of violence. Iran’s government announced that if Kurdistan separated itself from Iraq, they would close their border with Kurdistan and end all cooperation with the regional government. Turkey has announced military drills along the Iraqi border in a not-so-subtle threat. All of this is just the start of the overwhelmingly hostile response from Iraqi Kurdistan’s neighbors if the referendum goes ahead as planned and leads to the creation of a new state. We should expect that there will be a new and very bloody conflict in the region soon unless the referendum is called off.

Like virtually every other government in the world, the U.S. is opposed to the referendum, but it appears that Washington’s pleas on this question have been ignored. If the referendum goes ahead next week, the U.S. should urge Turkey and Iraq to show restraint in their responses. On no account should the U.S. let itself be dragged into yet another avoidable war on either side.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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