As referendum day, 25 September, approaches tensions between Erbil and Baghdad rise. Mar Sako calls on "moderate" voices to defuse tensions. A new military confrontation would have "disastrous" consequences. Minorities are growing fearful. Source tells AsiaNews that “the situation is even more delicate”.
Baghdad (AsiaNews) – Chaldean Patriarch Mar Louis Raphael Sako has sent a heartfelt plea to AsiaNews for further distribution about the growing tensions in Iraq (as well as the region and among Western diplomats) concerning the Kurdistan independence referendum at the end of this month.
The prelate calls the situation “delicate” and in need of “reconciliation” in order to reach “social harmony” and “civil peace”, already undermined by the rise of the Islamic State and jihadi violence. It is necessary, he added, to “be aware of the gravity" of the situation before it is "too late".
Mar Louis Raphael Sako calls on the "moderate" voices of those who work to "defuse the crisis" to speak out because a new war would be indefensible "for the central government" as well as "the Kurdish region".
Against a backdrop "growing tensions", "new fears" are emerging in the population. In case of an escalation, a "military confrontation" cannot be excluded, which would have "disastrous" consequences for everyone, "especially minorities”.
During an official visit on Tuesday to oil-rich Kirkuk, Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani defended the Kurdistan’s independence referendum on 25 September. The president of Iraq's Kurdish region insisted that holding the referendum in Kirkuk – and in the governorates of Dohuk, Erbil and Sulaimaniya – is "entirely legal."
In case of a "yes" vote, "Kirkuk will remain as safe and secure as it is now, kept safe by the peshmerga," Barzani said. The latter are the Kurdish forces that control the city. "We will not compromise Kirkuk's identity. We would rather give up our own rights than to compromise the rights of the ethnic minorities that live here."
In a non-binding resolution, Iraq's parliament rejected the referendum, calling it "unconstitutional" and a threat to the country's unity, “which is guaranteed by the constitution”.
The resolution calls on the central government to "shoulder its responsibility to protect the unity of Iraq and to take all necessary measures to preserve that unity."
"This is a very delicate issue,” an anonymous source told AsiaNews. The central government has not hesitated from issuing threats and putting pressures. "We cannot rule out the risk of a new, catastrophic war."
With respect to Christians, "the situation is even more delicate,” he said, “because whatever position they take, they will antagonise the other side, and there is a risk of retaliation. A lot of prudence is needed."
Kurds represent the fourth largest ethnic group in the Middle East, but they have never had their own stable, independent state.
They represent 15-20 per cent of Iraq’s population of 37 million. They were subjected to brutal repression by the Iraqi army under Saddam Hussein's regime in the 1980s and 1990s.
Kurdish lawmakers in the Iraqi parliament walked out of Tuesday’s vote against the referendum.
Turkey and Iran, concerned about separatist leanings among their own Kurdish populations, are also opposed to the referendum. The United Nations mission to Iraq has said it will not be "engaged in any way or form" in the vote.
"We have no intention to start a fight," Barzani said. "But we have the right to defend ourselves. Those who launch a war have to expect a response."
In light of parliament’s resolution, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi will be able to take all the necessary steps to preserve Iraq’s territorial integrity, effectively blocking Kurdistan’s secession.
Meanwhile, several Turkish media outlets have reported that Barzani reached a secret deal with the Israeli government to resettle Jewish Israelis of Kurdish origin – some 200,000 people – from Israel to Iraqi Kurdistan in case the Yes side wins the independence referendum later this month.
Many Iraqi Kurds believe that the support of Israel and US Jewish lobby for the referendum could push Washington to back Kurdish independence. In reality, for the White House views such a step could only upset the region’s delicate balance. (DS)