The Cable

The Cable goes inside the foreign policy machine, from Foggy Bottom to Turtle Bay, the White House to Embassy Row.

No International Support for Kurdistani Referendum? No Problem, Says Erbil

The international community is not supporting Iraqi Kurds’ independence referendum. But the KRG is planning on holding it anyway.

By , a global affairs journalist and the author of The Influence of Soros and Bad Jews.
masmoud
masmoud

On Monday, the European Union joined the United Nations, the United States, Turkey, and Iraq to discourage Iraqi Kurds from holding an independence referendum on Sept. 25.

On Monday, the European Union joined the United Nations, the United States, Turkey, and Iraq to discourage Iraqi Kurds from holding an independence referendum on Sept. 25.

That was to be expected, and won’t deter regional government authorities in Erbil, said Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) representative in Washington.

“This is what we expected. We’d hoped, of course, for a more positive response,” she said Monday at a media briefing. “But the pattern of independence movements elsewhere has shown that that’s the pattern. Nobody wants borders to change, nobody wants anything to change.”

Not all the damp squibs are equal. EU foreign ministers cautioned against “unilateral steps,” while the United Nations warned it would not be “engaged in any way or form.” The United States, busy with a fight against the Islamic State in Iraq, says an independence bid now would distract from more urgent priorities. Baghdad, for its part, has issues with the expansive scope of the territories Erbil wants to include in the referendum.

On timing, Sami Abdul Rahman said that, particularly with Iraqi elections coming up in 2018, there was no time to waste for the region that has long complained that it gets financially shorted by Baghdad.

“We’re not talking about Quebec. We’re not talking about Scotland,” she said in reference to separatist-prone areas in otherwise stable states. “We’re talking about Iraq.”

An Iraqi official told Foreign Policy, “We echo the statements released by our prime minister that holding the referendum and shaping the future of Iraq is a decision that all Iraqis must have a say in not only a certain group Iraqis. The government adheres to to the constitution as a legal framework to shape the relations with KRG. Any process in that direction should be discussed through dialogue and within the Iraqi constitution.” The official continued, “In relation to this matter, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi received a phone call from KRG President Masmoud Barzani affirming continued dialogue, as well as continued cooperation in fighting ISIS.”

And on the disputed territories of Kirkuk, Makhmour, Shingal, and Khanaqin? It would be unthinkable, she said, for them not to be included, particularly since the federal government let slip a deadline to resolve uncertainty over the disputed areas fully a decade ago.

“It’s kind of a bit rich, from our perspective, to have people say, ‘how dare you think about having a referendum in the disputed territories,’ when nobody did anything about disputed territories,” she said.

The referendum will only ask whether there should be an independent Kurdistan. The authorities would then want to negotiate the terms of independence, including the fate of the disputed territories, with Baghdad.

“It’s only a referendum. It’s not a declaration of independence. Even after the referendum we still have time to persuade our friends on the Hill and elsewhere that this is something for the good.”

Update, June 19, 2017, 5:51 p.m.: This piece has been updated to include comment from Iraqi officials.

Photo credit: Kaster – Pool/Getty Images

Emily Tamkin is a global affairs journalist and the author of The Influence of Soros and Bad Jews. Twitter: @emilyctamkin

More from Foreign Policy

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping give a toast during a reception following their talks at the Kremlin in Moscow on March 21.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping give a toast during a reception following their talks at the Kremlin in Moscow on March 21.

Can Russia Get Used to Being China’s Little Brother?

The power dynamic between Beijing and Moscow has switched dramatically.

Xi and Putin shake hands while carrying red folders.
Xi and Putin shake hands while carrying red folders.

Xi and Putin Have the Most Consequential Undeclared Alliance in the World

It’s become more important than Washington’s official alliances today.

Russian President Vladimir Putin greets Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.
Russian President Vladimir Putin greets Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev.

It’s a New Great Game. Again.

Across Central Asia, Russia’s brand is tainted by Ukraine, China’s got challenges, and Washington senses another opening.

Kurdish military officers take part in a graduation ceremony in Erbil, the capital of Iraq’s Kurdistan Region, on Jan. 15.
Kurdish military officers take part in a graduation ceremony in Erbil, the capital of Iraq’s Kurdistan Region, on Jan. 15.

Iraqi Kurdistan’s House of Cards Is Collapsing

The region once seemed a bright spot in the disorder unleashed by U.S. regime change. Today, things look bleak.