Referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan: Unity and Cohesion of the People
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Stanislav Ivanov

Stanislav Ivanov — Leading researcher at the Center for International Security of the IMEMO RAS.

Valdai Discussion Club

On September 25, 2017, a referendum on independence was held in Iraqi Kurdistan, which was condemned by the governments of Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria. According to the Iraqi Kurdistan Electoral Commission, more than 90 percent (2.86 million out of 3.31 million) of the referendum participants voted for independence.

According to Stanislav Ivanov, a leading researcher at the Center for International Security of the IMEMO, the referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan demonstrated the unity and cohesion of the population of the northern regions of Iraq in the face of a common enemy, the puppet pro-Iranian regime in Baghdad.

«93% residents of Iraqi Kurdistan and surrounding areas: Kurds, Arabs, Turkmens, Assyrians, Armenians voted for the independence of the region at a rather high turnout of 78%. They were forced to do this because of the central authorities betrayal in summer of 2014, when the 200,000-strong army of Iraq shamefully flew from 7-8 thousand ISIS fighters, abandoning the heavy weapons arsenals and surrendering more than a third of the country’s territory,» the expert said in an interview with valdaiclub.com . As a result, thousands of Kurds, Yezidis and other residents of the region were killed and enslaved, cities were plundered. According to Ivanov, the subsequent actions of the Iraqi authorities also did not lead to the normalization of relations with the Sunni Arabs and Kurds.

Baghdad threatens to use force against self-proclaimed Kurds. However, according to Stanislav Ivanov, «no special action by the Iraqi authorities is possible due to its military and political impotence, fear of new uprisings of Sunni Arabs and patriotic Shia Arabs. The spiritual leader of Iraqi Shiites, Muqtada al-Sadr, repeatedly stormed the buildings of the parliament and government with his supporters and demanded their dissolution. «

As for the reaction of the main international players, in particular, Turkey and Iran, it is quite predictable, according to the expert. «First, they are on the verge of hysteria, then they will calm down and everything will be the same. No one will be at war with the Iraqi Kurdistan, and no of blocking borders, either, this means war, and under international law such a blockade means a declaration of war. Turkey and Iran need to focus their efforts on their domestic political problems,» Ivanov said.

According to Stanislav Ivanov, the term «autonomy» is not applicable to Iraqi Kurdistan. Iraqi Kurdistan by statute and practically has long gone beyond autonomy. It is now a constituent member of the federation of the Iraqi Republic with the widest rights and powers. All official documents refer to the Kurdish region of Iraq (where the Kurdistan Regional Government was formed) or simply the Iraqi Kurdistan.

 And although the Cabinet of Ministers of Iraq has long demanded from the authorities of the  Iraqi Kurdistan to transfer all border points of the region under the control of Baghdad, and from foreign states to stop cooperation with the Iraqi Kurdistan in the oil sector, all this is practically impossible. «The Cabinet of Ministers without Sunni Arabs and Kurds is illegitimate, and such a decision by a narrow group of people is another shaking of air.» Moreover, the large-scale military exercises launched by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps are unlikely to lead to real hostilities. «Everything will be quiet and calm soon, the hysteria will come to end», the expert said.

As for the possible «domino effect» in the struggle of the Kurdish minorities for independence, this will not happen, Stanislav Ivanov said. «All Kurdish minorities are at different stages of struggle for their rights and freedoms. No Iraqi Kurds will be touched, and everybody will cooperate with them. Israel can even officially recognize the independence of Iraqi Kurdistan in the event of its declaration,» the expert concluded.

Valdai Discussion Club