Strategic implications for the referendum of Iraqi Kurdistan

Strategic implications for the referendum of Iraqi Kurdistan

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On Semptember25, the Kurdistan region of Iraq held a non – binding referendum on secession from Iraq, not only in the areas controlled by the Kurdistan government , but also spread to other disputed areas such as Kirkuk ‘s oil – rich province, and the international and regional stances represent an important shift under which the idea of the independence of the Kurdistan Region from the Iraqi state was put forward , and they play an important role in identifying opportunities to conduct the independence or not , as will determine the strategic implications of the referendum if it is done .

The international position.
There is an international consensus in opposing the referendum that the international powers : Washington, London, France, and international institutions: the United Nations, and the Security Council are rejecting the idea of a referendum considering the conditions surrounding the area , and the fight against “organization Daesh” do not provide an appropriate environment for the project of separation, along with the consequences from a state of conflict between the Kurds and the central government in Baghdad, as well as the rejection of the regional powers to the idea of the referendum and the independence of the region , but this rejection carries with it the tacit approval of some powers, specifically the United States, on the whole idea of independence; noting that the rejection is linked to emergency factors and thus is linked to the timing, and the objection does not stem from the essence of the separation process in principle, given that in the event of the completion of emergency factors such as the defeat of the organization “ISIS” the international powers will support a negotiated path between the two parties on the idea of independence for the region along the lines of South Sudan region.

Regional Position.
The Iranian , Turkish and Arab position comes at the forefront of regional positions, as Turkey and Iran reject the referendum process and separation completely , and the rejection is associated with fears that independence of Kurds of Iraq will constitute an incentive for Kurds in both countries to demand secession or autonomy, and that forms a ground for cooperation between Tehran and Ankara and coordinate efforts in steps to counter Kurdish aspirations.

The Arab position was united in the Arab League’s decision to reject the referendum, and the Arab position stems from the principle of the unity of Iraq, and the impact of separation on the unity of Syria in the future, where it will encourage Syrian Kurds to demand autonomy along the lines of ”the Kurdistan region.”

Strategic implications.
1. The declaration of an independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq raises nationalism among Kurds in Turkey and Iran, and encourage them to demand secession, or at least to seek autonomy and demand more rights, including affect stability in both countries and limits their regional ambitions.
2. The new Kurdish state undermines Iran’s ambition to establish “a Shiite crescent” stretching from Tehran to Baghdad, Damascus and Beirut, on the grounds that the Kurdish state may enjoy better relations with the Sunni partners in the region instead of Iran.
3. Kurdish referendum will strengthen joint cooperation between Ankara and Tehran because of their concerns about the Kurdish gains in Syria and Iraq, and both sides will work to avoid their differences to oppose the Kurdish geopolitical aspirations in both countries, and this will push the Kurds to seek to link relations with Arab countries, especially Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
4. Exacerbate the differences between the central government in Baghdad and the Kurdistan government on the disputed areas between the two parties “Kirkuk”, with the possibility that Iran will move Shiite forces to attack the Kurds.
5. a referendum constitutes a milestone in the phase of the disintegration of the Iraqi regime, it may lead to the another separation where the Sunnis might think about to establish their own region, and thus move toward the final disintegration of Iraq on the ethnic and sectarian basis: Acentral Sunni Arab state and Kurdish state in the north, an Arab Shiite State in the south.
6. It is possible that the Kurdistan government is facing a severe economic crisis, if Turkey decided to close the port of Ceyhan to the export of Kurdish oil, especially in the accumulated debt on it, which amounted to ($ 20 billion), and the end of the US aid program.
7. Allows for the United States to use the independent Kurdish state as a starting point to change the regime in Tehran, or at least to weaken its regional position.

The referendum will not have immediate administrative effects, such as the re demarcation of border or separation, but it gives legitimacy and political influence for the Kurdish government as a preparation to negotiations with the central government in Baghdad, on more autonomy or independence.

The establishment of a Kurdish state in northern Iraq poses challenges to Iran and Turkey, in particular that it might encourage nationalism amid the Kurds in both countries, and the limits of regional ambitions, and cut the Shiite crescent, in this context, it is possible that Iran is working to incite Shiite militias against the Kurds, but that will leave its negative consequences on it where it will lead to a move Kurds of Iran against it.
The response of major powers , Iraq, Turkey and Iran will be no more than an act of condemnation and denunciation of the referendum process because of the failure to formulate effective threats and promises to force the Kurds to abandon their project , but the international , Iranian, Turkish and Iraqi threats against the Kurds are not expected to go into effect , on the grounds that Turkey and Iran will be affected by any sanctions imposed on Kurdistan, and that Russia and Israel have declared their readiness to stand by the Kurds, and thus Moscow and Tel Aviv will be the alternative in the event of any boycott against Kurdistan.

Dr.Salim M.Al Zanoon

Iraqi Studies Unit
Rawabet Center for Research and Strategic Studies