Iraqi Kurds Pledge to Hold Independence Referendum Despite Strong Opposition, Israel Offers Lone Support

Kurdish men take part in a gathering to support the upcoming independence referendum, at a street in Erbil city, northern Iraq, 08 September 2017. (Photo: GAILAN HAJI/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

Iraq’s president of Kurdistan Regional Government, Masoud Barzani pledged to hold referendum on Kurdish independence on September 25 after Iraqi parliament voted in favor of rejecting the upcoming vote as unconstitutional.

“The referendum will be held on time. Dialogue with Baghdad will resume after the referendum,” Barzani said following the vote.

All 61 Kurdish lawmakers from five major Kurdistan region political parties walked out of the session before the vote and issued statements saying that the Kurdistan parliament will respond to the resolution, which had “no legal value”.

Parliament in Baghdad authorized Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to “take all measures” to preserve the unity of the country, but the resolution and lawmakers did not make it clear what these measures constituted. While certain Iraqi political parties and several groups from Popular Mobilization Forces threatened Kurdistan with war, Barzani dismissed such statements as “childish”.

The status of Kirkuk, oil-rich city with diverse population of Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen, has been a source of heightened tension between Erbil and Baghdad, after the majority of city’s residents voted in August to participate in the referendum.

The region has been under Kurdish rule since 2014, after Peshmerga forces seized it amid chaos caused by Islamic State capturing large swaths of Iraqi territory. PM al-Abadi accused Kurds of illegaly exporting oil from the region and called on Kurdish leaders to continue a dialogue with Baghdad.

Kurds seem to be embarking on a lonely journey, given that independence vote is also strongly opposed by Syrian, Iranian and Turkish leaders, who fear that Kurdish independence could embolden Kurdish minorities in their own countries and strengthen their already existing separatist tendencies.

Kurds faced opposition even from their traditional Western allies, who fear that Kurdish independence could destabilize sensitive security situation in Iraq amid final push to oust Islamic State from the country.

On the other hand, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked voiced their support for Kurdish independence. “While Israel rejects terror in any form, it supports the legitimate efforts of the Kurdish people to attain a state of their own,” said a statement released by PM office.

“Israel and the Western countries have a major interest in the establishment of the state of Kurdistan,” Shaked said on Monday.

Kurds have fought a long battle for their independence for almost a century – their population is split between several heavily Kurdish-populated regions in four different countries – Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey.

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