Erbil (AsiaNews) – International opposition to the 25 September referendum on independence in Iraqi Kurdistan set for 25 September is getting stronger. After Europe, the United States and Turkey, Iran and the United Nations have criticised the possibility of secession. Only Israel has expressed support for a Kurdish state for economic, political and strategic reasons.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres yesterday criticised Kurdish leaders for the pro-independence vote arguing that it would detract from the fight against the Islamic State group.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said that Guterres “considers that all outstanding issues between the federal Government and the Kurdistan Regional Government should be resolved through structured dialogue and constructive compromise.”
Iran also waded into the controversy with strong words, saying that it was ready to close the border with the Kurdistan Region and stop all the cooperation and security agreements if independence is proclaimed.
“Iran definitely recognizes only the united, integrated and federal government of Iraq,” said Ali Shamkhani, secretary general of the Iranian national security council.
Recent military and economic cooperation between Tehran and Erbil, based on Iranian logistical support to Kurdish forces (Peshmerga) against the Islamic State, proved essential in defeating the latter. Now, Shamkhani warned that Iran would end its current military and security agreements with Erbil.
If regional and world powers remain opposed to the referendum, Kurdistan experts believe that the referendum is just a political tool to put pressure on Baghdad.
For them Massud Barzani is using the referendum as leverage or pressure to end disputes with the Iraqi government over, among other things, Kirkuk and oil fields.
Barzani might also be using the referendum to maintain power, two years from the end of his term in office as president.
The issue is not whether the referendum will pass, but rather the turnout. If it doesn't reach 70 per cent, the poll will be a failure, some Kurdish officials said. In fact, not everyone in Iraqi Kurdistan supports the vote, especially among the current government's political rivals.
Against this backdrop, Israel is alone in openly supporting Kurdish independence. Many factors explain this support. Under its first prime Minister, David Ben Gurion, Israel developed a foreign policy doctrine based on an “alliance of the periphery”, i.e. close strategic ties with non-Arab Muslim states in the Middle East as well as an “alliance of minorities", namely the Kurds and Drue.
Diplomatically, a Sunni but non-Arab entity could be a "bridge" used by Israel to interact with other regional states, some of which are openly hostile to the Jewish State.
An additional factor is economics. Kurdistan supplies 75 per cent of Israel’s oil, and is the recipient of Israeli investments in military, communication, infrastructure and energy fields.
Finally, by its support to the Kurdish cause, Israel is sending a message to the United States and Turkey, telling the first that its alliance with the Kurds is a way to stop Iran, and warning the second that its support for Hamas could be costly, and that the recent Israeli-Turkish rapprochement remains fragile and stormy.