Amid the backdrop of the fight against the Islamic State (IS), where Kurds play a leading role in the US-backed war against the IS, Kurdish Peshmergha have defeated IS troops in many regions of Iraq and now control those territories, which includes the oil-rich city of Kirkuk.
The Kurdistan autonomous region in Iraq plans to hold a referendum to determine its direction on statehood today, September 25. The referendum is not equivalent of a declaration of independence. The referendum will simply ask voters if they want an independent Kurdish state. The vote will not only take place within the borders of the Kurdistan region, but also within disputed territories that are now under de facto Kurdish control.
Besides the Kurdish population in Iraq, Kurds form the fourth largest ethnic group in Middle East, but are without a state of their own. The Kurdish people are scattered in various countries, including Turkey, Iran Syria and Armenia where they have sizeable populations. It is in this milue, Iraq’s Kurdish leader, Masoud Barzani has called for a plebiscite on whether or not the Kurdish people want to form a state of their own.
Like the Tamils of Sri Lanka and the Israelis who prior to the setting up of the State of Israel, the Kurds are a discriminated minority in the countries they live in. They have their own language, culture and even their forms of worship differ from those of the majority in those lands. They occupy a contiguous land area in which they have lived in for centuries. They are now seeking a land for themselves, an end to years of discrimination, and support for the right to rule themselves.
Rulers like the late Saddam Hussein of Iraq and Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey look on the Kurds as terrorists and have subjected them to persecution. In holding the referendum though, Iraq’s Kurdish leader appears to be defying international opposition from the US, the EU countries, and neighbouring Middle Eastern countries all of whom too, are opposed to the proposed referendum. The only nation backing the demand of the Kurds is the State of Israel.
What drives the Kurds to hold a referendum at this point or juncture, when In the aftermath of the western occupation of Iraq, it was the US that helped set up of an autonomous region within Iraq where Kurds enjoy a degree of self rule. Kurds however claim, the regime in Baghdad has nullified their autonomy and continues its discriminatory policies against the Kurdish people.
The reality is, Kurds realise that once the war against the Islamic state ends, their bargaining power with both the US and the Iraqi authorities will diminish. Today the war to recapture Iraqi territory from the IS, is coming to an end. And so the Kurdish leadership is attempting to solidify gains they made on the battlefield before international pressure is brought on them to return these territories to Iraq.
A referendum which delivers a pro-independence verdict will make it all the more difficult to bring international pressure on the Kurds to cede these territories back to Iraq. Analysts see the referendum as a ploy a set up for another US-outpost in the Middle East and a means to further control and dominate the oil-rich region.
Whatever, today is September 25, and the Kurds of the autonomous region within Iraq and the captured territories now held by Kurdish Peshmergha forces, are expected to vote in an unofficial independence referendum. There is little doubt if the referendum goes ahead, the pro-independence vote will triumph, which in turn will lead to situations of confrontation and violence within Iraq.
The Turkish President has already warned against the holding of the referendum which he fears will draw Turkish Kurds into a future conflict. He has already warned of Turkish intervention in the event of violence breaking out. The crackdown on the Kurds in Iraq will draw the US into the conflict on behalf of Kurds who form the backbone of the US-backed forces fighting the war against the IS and could lead to the setting up of another US-dependent state in the Middle East.
For America a dependent Kurdish state is a win-win situation. On the one hand, it increases US leverage over Israel which lately has not only openly opposed US policies but also attempted to play a role in the US election itself, vis-a-vis influencing the US Jewish voting bloc.
On the other hand, it will go a long way to improve America’s image. By helping the Islamic Kurds it will help change international perceptions of the US now seen as anti-Islamic.