Mariah Partin, Staff Writer
On Sept. 25, the decision for Iraqi Kurdistan to gain independence from Iraq was put to a vote. With an overwhelming 93 percent vote in favor, the independence referendum passed, despite opposition from Baghdad, the U.S. and other countries in the region.
Relations between the Kurds in northern Iraq and the rest of the country have always been uneasy and even hostile. According to ABC news, the memories of Saddam Hussein’s gassing of at least 5,000 of their countrymen are still fresh in the minds of Iraqi Kurds. Baghdad has also slashed the salaries of public servants in Iraqi Kurdistan by up to 70 percent since the price of oil bottomed out. Without the financial benefits from Baghdad, many Kurds wondered if being on their own could be any worse.
Despite changes in Iraq’s government over the years, the Kurdish people still felt oppressed. As ABC reports, the U.S., U.K., France, the Arab League and the U.N. are worried that this act could have a destabilizing effect on an already volatile region. Despite this, the Kurds celebrated their victory for days. Independence movements in surrounding regions could potentially lead to more skirmishes between militias and armed gangs, causing a possible wider regional conflict. After the landslide vote, the Kurds want to negotiate with the Iraqi government, who have refused and demanded that the results be annulled.
The New York Times stated that Iraq is in fear of losing one third of its territory, as well as the oil and gas reserves in that region. Turkey and Iran oppose the referendum because they fear that this could light a fire for separatist ambitions among the Kurdish minorities in their own countries. Iraq has already taken control of the border leading into the region from Turkey, and they have forced the suspension of international flights to Kurdistan’s two international airports. The New York Times also reported that Turkey has threatened to close the border between Turkey and Iraq.
Another concern is Kurdistan’s form of government. The Kurdistan Regional Government lacks democratic foundations of law, free and fair elections, civil society and a legislature, which led to certain officials such as Kurdish parliament member Rabbon Maroff heading the “no for now” movement that opposed the vote. Joost Hiltermann, a middle east specialist at the International Crisis group said, “Kurdistan is not ready because economically, it’s a mess.”
With the Kurdish government being 20 billion dollars in debt and the price of petroleum plunging worldwide, gaining independence is looking to be a difficult task. Hoshyar Zebari, an adviser, former Iraqi foreign minister and uncle to the Kurdish President Massoud Barzani, said that relations with Iraq have irrevocably broken. The concern now is that Iran’s influence on Iraq’s Shiite-led government will strengthen. A possible resolution could be constitutional power-sharing or a Kurdish confederation with Iraq, but for now a negotiation does not appear immediate.
Kurdistan’s desire for independence and recognition seems properly deserved, but for now we will hope for a de-escalation of hostility between the region and Iraq, as well as less instability between middle eastern countries.