Iraqi Kurdistan, post referendum

Photo from NRT TV

By: Kasia Protz

A majority of people living in Iraqi Kurdistan have long expressed their desire to determine their future. Therefore, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) scheduled a referendum on independence to take place within Iraqi Kurdistan as well as several outlying disputed territories. On the 25th of September, an overwhelming majority voted for a separation from Iraq in favor of an independent Kurdistan. The referendum was not supported on the international level with United States, European Union and the neighboring countries such as Iran and Turkey strongly opposing it.  The Iraqi government was in opposition to the referendum as well.

The official results were announced three days after with 92% voting yes for separation of Iraqi Kurdistan from Iraq. Since the announcement of the referendum by the KRG, the Iraqi government has called the referendum “illegal and unconstitutional” and asked the KRG to cancel the results, threatening that failure to do so would lead to sanctions and military interventions in the disputed areas of Kirkuk, Sinjar, and Mosul.

Both Iran and Turkey, who each have significant Kurdish populations, have said separately that they oppose the referendum. In addition, the Turkish and Iranian Government have moved significant amounts of troops and military equipment to the KRG borders and are performing military drills along with the Iraqi army.

After talks in Ankara on September 28th with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the referendum was illegitimate. Turkey and Iran threatened economic sanctions and a military response to any security challenges posed by the referendum.

The Iraqi government had several meetings with the leaders of Turkey and Iran in regards to the referendum. In those meetings, the Iraqi Government asked Turkey and Iran to hand the border crossings of  Iraqi Kurdistan to the Iraqi Central Government this has not been implemented yet. However, there have been a lot of military movements and exercises by the three governments along with all borders of Iraqi Kurdistan including the borders with Turkey, Iran, and Iraq. The prime minister of Iraq had a press conference claiming that they will soon take control over the border crossings of IK.

After the referendum, the KRG was asked by the Iraqi Prime Minister to also give control of the only two airports in Iraqi Kurdistan, located in Erbil and Sulaimani,  back to the Central Government of Iraq.  Followed by that request, on the morning of the 29th, a Facebook campaign “Sky belongs to the stars” was launched asking the Iraqi Government and international community to not cancel international flights to and from Iraqi Kurdistan. That afternoon peaceful demonstrations took place at both airports with the same request.
The KRG refused to hand over the airports and on the 29th of September at 6 pm all international flights in Iraqi Kurdistan were canceled with only flights to Baghdad still in operation.

In many parts of the country, there has been an increase in hate speech bringing concern to many people as well as the civil society. The civil society is scared that war will come once again to the region and borders of Iraqi Kurdistan. Many civil society members mentioned to CPT that it has been difficult to directly be involved or speak out against all these threats towards Iraqi Kurdistan. They continued by saying that if you live in Southern Iraq and ask the Iraqi government to stop threatening, they would consider you as a traitor and if you are living in the Kurdish region criticizing the KRG, they would also be considered as a traitor. Nevertheless, the civil society is working very hard to unite throughout the whole country to stop any possibilities of war or violence.

Kak Bapir, a CPT partner from Baste village in the Qandil mountains called CPT reporting that there was a vast movement of Iranian military on the border of Iraqi Kurdistan. Kak Bapir told us, “Iran has stationed a ton of troops near our tents where we graze animals and that there is military equipment unlike I have ever seen.”  

Two days before the referendum Iran heavily bombed our partners from Sidakan District, seriously injuring a woman. She is still hospitalized.

Four days before the referendum the Turkish government bombed the District of Amedi killing 7 civilians and wounding two. CPT partners have expressed that they believe the heavy bombing prior to the referendum was a violent threat From Iran and Turkey warning citizens from Iraqi Kurdistan to not vote.

Another worry of the civil society is the disputed areas such as Kirkuk and it’s surrounding areas which are ethnically diverse. Many people are trying to encourage others, particularly the youth, to not engage in violent acts but instead engage in public discourse and dialogue. The KRG officials have also asked the Iraqi government to organize open discussions regarding the referendum and the future of the region, however, there has not been a constructive move toward dialogue yet.

In addition, the civilians of Iraqi Kurdistan, Iraq and other neighboring countries are extremely worried about the future of the region causing much anxiety. People hope that the authorities can engage in open dialogue instead of resorting to the violent options on the table. This is also the hope of CPT.