Iraqi Kurds set date for
President Masoud Barzani announces
September 25 date, but path to independence remains unclear if ‘Yes’
Officials in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region
have announced that the northern territory will hold an independence
referendum on September 25.
Masoud Barzani, the president of the Iraqi
Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), announced the vote on Twitter on
Hamin Hawrami, a senior presidential adviser,
said on his own Twitter account that the decision follows a meeting of
the major Kurdish political parties in Erbil, the region’s capital.
The referendum on whether to secede from Iraq will be held in the three
governorates that make up the Kurdish region and in the areas that are
disputed by the Kurdish and Iraqi governments but are currently under
Kurdish military control.
The disputed areas include swaths of northern
territory that are claimed by both Kurdish Iraq and Baghdad, including
the key oil-rich province of Kirkuk.
Opposition in Baghdad to Kurdish Iraq becoming
independent would become even greater if the region tried to take
disputed territory along with it.
But it is not clear whether a “Yes” vote,
which is expected to be the result, will lead to the declaration of
While the concept of Kurdish independence has
broad appeal among Iraqi Kurds, they themselves remain deeply divided
politically, which could lead to paralysis in a new state.
The Iraqi government has so far not reacted to
the announcement. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said in April that
he respected the Kurdish right to vote on independence, but he did not
think the timing was right for the move.
“The key fundamental issue we have, is that
there is a lack of partnership [with Baghdad],” Bayan Sami Abdul
Rahman, the KRG’s representative to the US, told Al Jazeera.
She said that if Kurds do vote in favour of
independence and actively pursue it, then they will seek a future
relationship with Baghdad in which they are “each other’s biggest trade
partner, [with] agreements on security, banking, finance, currencies,
economic trade”, and many others.
Iraq’s Kurdish region, with a population of
about five million, already enjoys a high degree of autonomy, including
its own parliament and armed forces.
But relations with the central government in
Baghdad have nosedived in recent years over a range of issues.
These include the sharing of oil revenues and
the control of some areas that are technically part of federal Iraq but
have come under Kurdish control since 2014 during the war against the
Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group.
Neighbouring states like Turkey, Syria and
Iran, which all have large and sometimes restive Kurdish populations,
have in the past resisted moves towards Kurdish independence.
Kurdistan exports most of its oil via a
pipeline leading to the Turkish port of Ceyhan, but also overland
through Turkey by tanker truck.
Potential opposition from Turkey could thus
pose a major economic as well as political challenge to Iraqi Kurdish