Iraqi Kurdistan Wants ‘Amicable Divorce’ from Baghdad, Spokesman Says

Masoud Barzani (L) who has been President of the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan since 2005, is seen here at the White House back in 2005 with then US President George W. Bush. Photo: White House

  • Iraqi Kurdistan may soon seek to achieve independence by negotiating with Iraq’s capital Baghdad, according of an Iraqi Kurdish spokesman.
  • It would need to assuage the fears of neighboring countries with large Kurdish communities as well.
  • Kurds in Syria and Turkey are ‘totally different’ and will not take Iraqi Kurdistan as an example, the spokesman has argued.
  • Peace process between Turkey and the PKK is still possible, Iraqi Kurdish leadership deems.

Iraqi Kurdistan, an autonomous Kurdish-populated region in Northern Iraq often described as a “semi-state”, might be moving soon towards independence, according to a Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) spokesperson.

The Kurds are often said to be the world’s largest stateless nation spread out across four Middle Eastern countries (Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran), and the population of Iraqi Kurdistan is just a part of the region’s total population of ethnic Kurds.

After the 2003 War in Iraq, the regional government of Iraqi Kurdistan has established itself as a crucial US ally, and has been gradually acquiring more and more attributes of a state.

The Kurds in Turkey enjoy no autonomy, in spite of their party briefly gaining parliamentary representation in 2016. The PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party), which for decades has been using violence to fight for the autonomy or independence of the Turkish Kurds, is blacklisted by Turkey, the EU, and the US as a terrorist organization.

The ongoing Syrian Civil War, which began in 2011, has created a window of opportunity for the Kurds populating Northern and Northeast Syria, with their militia, the so called People’s Protection Units (YPG), emerging as an anti-ISIS ally to both the United States and Russia.

Turkey has been opposed to the rise of the YPG and the US and Russian support for it because of its alleged connections to the PKK. However, the Turkish government has enjoyed close cooperation with the government of Iraqi Kurdistan.

‘At Baghdad’s Mercy’

The time has come for the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and Iraq’s government in Baghdad to start discussing an “amicable divorce,” according to a spokesperson for the Kurdish autonomous region, cited by Turkish publication Hurriyet Daily News.

“We should enter a serious dialogue with Baghdad to reach an amicable solution – an amicable solution for divorce,” KRG spokesperson Safeen Dizayee recently told Turkish daily Hurriyet.

“We can be two good neighbors. This is something we want as the only way,” he added.

“The principle of consensus was something all sides agreed on [in 2003], but now that principle is no longer there. It is a majority-minority vote. So even if Kurds have 65 seats in [the Iraqi Parliament in] Baghdad, we will always be the minority,” he said.

The Iraqi Parliament, known as the Council of Representatives, has a total of 328 seats. Iraqi Kurdistan itself is comparable to Scotland in both population number and territory. It has a population of 5.5 million out of Iraq’s total of 38 million, and a territory of app. 78,000 square km (30,500 square miles).

KRG spokesman Dizayee complained that Iraq’s central government had also been blocking the KRG’s share in the budget, Dizayee said.

“We are always at the mercy of Baghdad and this is why we are looking to find another formula. Our budget has been cut; there is no assistance for the military. These show that we cannot work together. There is an Iraq before Mosul and post-Mosul. This is why we have to seek a solution for stability. The only way forward is to go for an independent entity in Iraqi Kurdistan,” the spokesperson said.

Dealing Turkey & US

The KRG spokesman believes the Iraqi Kurdistan’s independence can be gained through serious conversations with the Iraqi government in Baghdad, and then by assuaging the potential concerns of its neighbors.

“We need to enter serious conversations first with Baghdad before anybody else. Then hopefully with our other neighbors so that they do not see this newborn entity as a threat to their security and stability,“ Dizayee said, adding immediately,

“We are talking about the borders of Iraqi Kurdistan alone. We have no ambitions of a territory in Iran, Syria and Turkey.”

Hurriyet Daily News points out that Turkey has always opposed any sort of independent Kurdistan, highlighting Iraq’s territorial integrity.

Dizayee said the issue was never raised officially with Turkey, and a talk may be possible after the April 16 referendum when the Turkish citizens are going to vote on whether to transform their country from a parliamentary into presidential republic.

“The referendum is only a couple of weeks away. I don’t think it is too much of a time in a nation’s history. We are ready to wait. For sure we have to talk with Turkey,” the KGR spokesman added.

In his words, the United States has not endorsed the Iraqi Kurds’ independence ambitions either, and the real concern for the U.S. is to have a strong Iraq in the region.

“Iraq is a strategically important country for them. But if you do not address the Kurdish issue in Iraq, Iraq will never be stable. The present Iraq is far from being stable,“ Dizayee argued.

“Years ago, a very senior American official said in a discussion with one of our politicians that he envisaged a strong, centralized Iraq. Our friend asked him, ‘In that case, why did you remove Saddam?’ After Saddam, you will never have a strong centralized government, never. It can only happen under a dictatorship,” he said.

Members of Syrian Kurdish People’s Defense Units (YPG) prepare to go out on patrol in Kobane, Northern Syria, 30 January 2015. According to the government of Iraqi Kurdistan, however, the “window of opportunity” created for the Syrian Kurds by the Syrian Civil War will not last. Photo: Sedat Suna/EPA/REX/Shutterstock

The ‘Totally Different’ Syrian Kurds

Dizayee explicitly made the point that the potential independence of Iraqi Kurdistan was not going to set an example for the stateless Kurds in neighboring countries.

“They are totally different,” the spokesperson said, referring to the Kurds in Syria.

“First the Kurds’ progress in Iraq has been continuing almost uninterrupted since World War I in Iraq. We have a legal status as an autonomous region. The Kurdish leadership in Iraq has been received at the White House, Downing Street, Elysee and Bestepe [Ankara]. There is a de facto recognition,“ the KRG spokesman argued.

“I do not think you can draw a parallel with the [outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party] PKK or Syrian Kurds. This luxury for Syrian Kurds will not last long, unfortunately. We encourage them to be more realistic. We also encourage the PKK to be more pragmatic to open doors with other opposition groups,” Dizayee said.

He added he still saw a possibility for a peace process between Turkey and the PKK “not immediately, but in the future,” with a possible role for KRG President Masoud Barzani.

“If all sides accept such a role, I am sure we will be eager to contribute – particularly because he has a lot of respect among Kurds in Turkey,” Dizayee added.

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