Iraqi Kurdistan’s decision to go ahead with a proposed independence referendum, despite strong opposition both from within and outside Iraq, has created a regional political storm in West Asia. The Iraqi Supreme Court has already asked the Kurdistan Regional Government to suspend the vote, scheduled for September 25, till its legality is settled. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has threatened to use force if the referendum turns violent.
The Turkish government has ordered a military drill on the Iraqi border, while Iran has also issued a warning. Such opposition is largely driven by fears that a ‘yes’ vote in the referendum, which is almost certain, would enhance the nationalist aspirations of Kurds living in other countries and further destabilise the region. Besides Iraq, Kurds, the fourth largest ethnic group in West Asia but without a state, are scattered in various countries, including Turkey, Iran and Syria. In Turkey, Kurdish rebels are involved in a protracted civil war, while in Syria they have established a regional government. They are all keenly awaiting the outcome of the Iraqi vote. A ‘yes’ vote doesn’t necessarily mean that Iraqi Kurdistan would immediately break away from Iraq. Both the regional government in Erbil and the federal government in Baghdad are not ready for that. But the Kurdish Regional Government, led by Masoud Barzani, wants to send a message to Baghdad as well as the outside world that its aspirations for independence are genuine and have popular resonance.
For generations, Iraqi Kurds have been at the receiving end in the dysfunctional relationship between Baghdad and Erbil. Kurds had been brutally repressed until the regional government was formed following the first Gulf War of 1991. Since then, they have exercised autonomy and built institutions for self-governance, but Kurdistan has remained part of Iraq. Now, Mr. Barzani, who will step down as the President of the regional government after the November 1 elections, is looking to begin the process for restructuring Erbil-Baghdad ties. Baghdad should see this as an opportunity to address the Kurdish question. In recent years, both Baghdad and Erbil cooperated in the fight against the Islamic State. Now that the IS threat has been largely contained, both sides can refocus their energies on settling the dispute between themselves. Though independence remains the proclaimed goal of Iraqi Kurdistan, Mr. Barzani himself has often signalled compromise. He once proposed a confederation, a united state in which Iraq and Kurdistan could co-exist, sharing resources and a vision on foreign and security policies. Baghdad chose to ignore such proposals. With the push for referendum, Kurds are trying to change the status quo. Federal dialogue is essential, for it is neither in Baghdad’s nor the Kurds’ interest to jeopardise the relative calm in Iraq’s northeast, or to deepen sectarian fault lines.
Storm: a tumultuous reaction; an uproar or controversy.
Example: The book caused a storm in South America
Synonyms: uproar, outcry, fuss, furor, brouhaha, rumpus, trouble
Threatened: state one’s intention to take hostile action against someone in retribution for something done or not done.
Example: The unions threatened a general strike
Synonyms: menace, intimidate, browbeat, bully, blackmail, terrorize
Enhance: intensify, increase, or further improve the quality, value, or extent of.
Example: His refusal does nothing to enhance his reputation
Synonyms: increase, add to, intensify, heighten, magnify, amplify
Scattered: throw in various random directions.
Example: Scatter the coconut over the icing
Protract: lasting for a long time or longer than expected or usual.
Example: A protracted and bitter dispute
Synonyms: prolonged, long-lasting, extended, long-drawn-out, spun out
Resonance: the quality in a sound of being deep, full, and reverberating.
Example: The resonance of his voice
Autonomy: the right or condition of self-government, especially in a particular sphere.
Example: Tatarstan demanded greater autonomy within the Russian Federation
Proclaim: announce officially or publicly.
Example: The joint manifesto proclaimed that imperialism would be the coalition’s chief objective
Jeopardise: put someone or something into a situation in which there is a danger of loss, harm, or failure.
Example: A devaluation of the dollar would jeopardize New York’s position as a financial center
Synonyms: threaten, endanger, imperil, risk, put at risk, put in danger/jeopardy