Will Iraq’s Kurds declare independence?
Despite Arbil gaining more of an economic muscle, Iraq’s Kurds need more regional and international acceptance to declare independence
On the surface, developments in Iraq have moved the autonomous region of Kurdistan much closer to declaring independence.
Despite Baghdad declaring Arbil’s independent oil transactions “illegal,” the international market has been a willing buyer, especially when offered lucrative discounts.
The Kurdish Regional Government has reportedly sold oil to Austria and to a refinery co-owned by British Petroleum and Russia’s Rosneft. There have also been recent unconfirmed reports of sales to Israel.
In early June, Turkey and the KRG signed a historic 50-year oil deal. This pushed Baghdad to file a case for arbitration before the International Chamber of Commerce against Turkey and BOTAŞ, a state-owned petroleum enterprise.
In addition, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s party recently voiced support for the Kurds’ right to self-determination, dashing the hopes of those who have long relied on the NATO member to quell such aspirations.
As the KRG has been gaining economic muscle, the lightning military offensive by Sunni militants has exposed the fragility of the Iraqi state, providing the Kurds a possible opportunity to go it alone.
Soon after the militants’ assault began, Kurdish forces peshmerga took control of oil-rich Kirkuk, a disputed city inhabited by Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen.
In a statement that made headlines, KRG President Massound Barazani said Tuesday that “the time is here for the Kurdistan people to determine their future, and the decision of the people is what we’re going to uphold.”
However, this is not the first time Barazani has made such comments, and some analysts do not believe that the KRG will take the opportunity to declare independence.
“While the formation of an independent state needs to be based on strong factors such as a good economy, Kurds are concerned and wondering if there’s any regional support to make this state,” Kirkuk-based strategic analyst Abdulrahman al-Sheikh Talib told Al Arabiya News.
Independence would need international acceptance, and to be “implemented through the Security Council and the United Nations officially,” he added.
Kirkuk-based analyst Ahmed al-Askari said the KRG has sufficient economic strength, but questioned whether regional governments would “stifle” the new state, pointing to the fact that Kurdistan is landlocked.
Furthermore, “there are tendencies in Kurdistan towards independence, while others want to stay in a strong, federal Iraq,” Askari added, saying he himself was conflicted on the issue.
“This is a fragile situation,” he said. “These questions and decisions can’t be made on emotions.”
Iraqi-Kurdish MP Viyan al-Dakhil told Al Arabiya News that “the Kurdish nation has the right to self-determination,” and to Kirkuk, but that these issues should be decided by a referendum.
Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution says a referendum must be held in Kirkuk for its mixed population to decide whether to join Kurdistan.
Asked whether a declaration of independence was imminent, Dakhil replied: “Iraq is in a fragile situation. We’re not the type to use this opportunity to advance our interests on behalf of a very weary nation.”
She added: “We’re now one country… and we’re calling for an all-inclusive unity government.”
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