By Jawad Akram
The moments of referendum for Independence of Iraqi Kurdistan from Iraq are looming despite fierce opposition from Iraqi Government, United States (U.S.) and neighboring countries which also hold significant Kurdish Population i.e. Turkey, Iran and Syria.
Kurds are community of around 30 million people inhabited in vast adjacent border areas among Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey. This land is rich in Petroleum and Mineral reserves. 6 million Kurds –almost 20 percent of Iraqi population – are living in Iraq. They have their own legal government by the name of Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) under the Kurd Leader Massoud Barzani.
The results of upcoming referendum are crystal clear. Kurds are going to vote for an Independent Country, Kurdistan. The decision of Referendum is of KRG, and not of central government in Baghdad. Though Iraqi Kurds will not be able to win independence immediately after referendum but that will be the onset of their final march towards Independent Kurdistan, and sadly for that they might have to walk through a deadly pathway in an already complicated and devastated region. When there are still threats of resurgence of Islamic State of Syria and Levant (ISIS), Syrian Civil War is going on at hostile pace in the presence of external powers like U.S., Russia, Iran and Turkey, Referendum for Independence of Iraqi Kurdistan will stoke the grim situation further.
Referendum for Kurdistan would be just a new addition to the list of existing prolonged issues, the region is already facing. It will stir regional ethnic and sectarian conflict. Though Independence vote is a Right of Kurds but the time for this Right is just like adding fuel to fire. Similar thing happened in East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, in the election of 1970 when prolonged deprivation of Rights of Bengalis by West Pakistani Governments produced such a situation that resulted in the victory of anti-Pakistan Awami League there and that ultimately got liberation from Pakistan with the help of India after a series of deadly incidents including War of 1971. On that time if General Yahya Khan, then President, had postponed the elections and focused on solving the issues faced by Bengalis, then situation could have been a different one. A kind of similar scenarios seems to be developing after Kurdistan Referendum. There would be more blood, turmoil and perilous effects of all incidents will last for long as we see most of Bangladeshis still hate Pakistanis.
Independence of Iraqi Kurdistan will not remain restricted to Iraq. Syria, Turkey and Iran would see similar uprisings on part of their Kurdish Populations. Their Kurds will get support and inspiration from Iraqi Kurds. At later stages internal clashes with Kurds may escalate into large scale regional wars. This pathway may develop similar law and order crisis as seen in Libya and Egypt. The result is very clear, there will be more devastation, killings and this portion of Middle East will be burning.
Now, if the situation is analyzed on Iraqi Kurds perspective then we see they have long been oppressed by Iraqi Governments. Former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein gassed them and buried in mass graves on charges of espionage. Though era of Saddam Hussein has gone but pains and miseries of such incidents leave lasting effects on the memories of affectees. If there is any strong government in Baghdad then Kurdish dream of Independence will go in vain. Kurds are watching this time as an opportunity when Baghdad is encircled by a lot of issues and Kurds are holding strong offices in their Kurdistan Region.
Massoud Barzani, now 71 years old, has been President of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region since 2005. For Barzani and his close aides, this seems to be the last powerful opportunity to pave the path of freedom. The secession referendum is inevitable now and Kurds’ ‘Yes’ to freedom can’t be converted to ‘No’. The biggest challenge now is to keep the Iraqis and Kurds peaceful and non-violent. Though it seems impossible but efforts on part of leaderships may reduce the damages.
Jawad Akram is an International Affairs Analyst. He has done Masters in International Relations.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and tweets @jawad5677