Kurdish regions go to the polls on independence from Iraq

Kurdish regions go to the polls on independence from Iraq

Editorial Staff
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The decision to hold the referendum, in what is to be an advisory poll, was ratified by the parliament of the autonomous region of Kurdistan on September 15. The referendum faces opposition by the international community, particularly from the U.S. and Turkey, who fear possible unrest in the region

In a historic referendum, the citizens of the provinces of Kirkuk and Sinjar, in the region of Ninive, are being asked to express their opinion on Kurdistan’s independence from Baghdad. This is an advisory vote that will have no immediate effect. Kurdish President Masoud Barzani has announced that “secession” from Baghdad could take place in two years’ time. On September 22, tens of thousands of people took part in a large pro referendum rally at the Erbil stadium. The leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party (PDK) President Barzani has stressed that the aim of the independence referendum is not to create new borders but to establish Iraqi Kurdistan’s right to independence. The Kurdish President pointed out that anyone who opposes the independence referendum can go the polls and cast their vote against it. At the end of a meeting held in Erbil, the High Referendum Council announced that the referendum would be held as scheduled as "no acceptable alternative has been offered." On Friday, September 15, the parliament of Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region approved a plan to hold an independence referendum. The parliamentary session, the first held since October 2015, was attended by 71 deputies out of 111 and was boycotted by Gorran (a movement founded by former deputies from the Kurdistan Democratic Party and Patriotic Union of Kurdistan) and Komal (Kurdistan Islamic Group). According to Kurdish media sources, 61 members of parliament voted in favor of holding the referendum in the region and the disputed areas, including the Kirkuk Province. In recent days, national and international appeals to cancel the Kurdish referendum–which comes a month or so ahead of the region's presidential elections scheduled for early November–have multiplied. In the international arena, following Turkey, Iran and the United States, the United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres has also joined the appeal, urging Iraqi Kurdistan’s authorities to revise their decision, which he considers “inopportune” and coming at a delicate time for Iraq and the entire Middle East region. In Europe, the United Kingdom as well as Spain and France have expressed reservations about the referendum, albeit using different tones. The government in Madrid, facing the Catalan secessionist movement within its own national borders, has called the Kurdish referendum “illegal”, while Paris has used a more measured tone, with French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian calling the referendum “an inappropriate initiative” and urging dialogue between Erbil and Baghdad. The United States and the EU have asked the outgoing president of the autonomous region of Kurdistan Masoud Barzani and Kurdish leaders to postpone the independence referendum for at least three years in order to safeguard the country’s territorial integrity. Iran’s response has been harsher, issuing a threat on September 17 that it would close its borders with Kurdistan if the referendum proceeded as planned.