For Baghdad, Kurdish Referendum is a greater threat to Iraq’s unity and future than the Islamic State

The vote could fuel fresh sectarian clashes. For some time, the Kurds have aspired to an independent state, but several of the region’s states (Syria, Iraq and, above all, Turkey) opposed the plan. Kurds have been used in regional wars, and now intend to decide their destiny. The US and Israel play a role. For Barzani, Baghdad is not a partner but could be a "good neighbour".

Baghdad (AsiaNews) – The echoes of Mosul’s "liberation" after three years of Islamic State rule has not died down yet that another threat is looming over Iraq’s future, namely Kurdistan’s independence referendum on 25 September.

Even the Jihadis, who had almost reached Baghdad at one point, never came as close to undermining the Iraq’s unity and stability. For Mideast political analysts and experts, the vote in early autumn, which could give the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) a green light on independence, could lead to fresh sectarian and confessional clashes.

This is an ever-present danger, in a country like Iraq divided along ethnic, linguistic and religious lines, especially in the northern province of Nineveh.

For some time, the Kurds, involved in major regional conflicts in Iraq and neighbouring Syria, persecuted in Turkey and used in the struggle against fundamentalist groups, have aspired to have an independent nation of their own.

However, this plan is opposed by Syria, Iraq and Turkey, as well as the United States, which has provided the Kurds, including the Peshmerga, with weapons and supplies to fight Jihadi groups. In fact, the Kurds where the first who stopped Daesh’s advance. Daesh is the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group.

Kurdish leaders and their supporters in Washington point to their contribution to the international coalitions fighting the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. This major military commitment gives the semi-autonomous Iraqi region the "moral and political leverage" to assert itself in the long struggle for independence.

Out of the many Kurdish, Christian and Turkmen-led political parties that have weighed in on the referendum question, only a few minor parties have refused to participate in the upcoming vote.

According to critics, the move is a thinly veiled power grab by KRG President Masoud Barzani, who they argue is attempting to expand Kurdistan beyond what is outlined in the Iraqi constitution.

A successful referendum vote and subsequent independence bid could bring the oil-rich city of Kirkuk and other key territory under Erbil's control at the expense of Baghdad.

In a speech to the European Parliament in Brussels, Mr. Barzani showed no signs of seeking a compromise, saying delaying an independence vote would be more destabilising than letting the referendum proceed.

In his view, the current relationship with Iraq's central government has been frustrating and, if allowed to continue, it might lead to "a bloody war."

For this reason, he wants a different formula and a different relationship with Baghdad. "Since we have failed to become two good partners, we have to choose to become two good neighbours,” he said.

At the international level, Erbil can count on good trade and diplomatic relations with the United States and Israel, although Washington has doubts over the referendum’s wisdom.

Since the start of the war in Syria, Israel has purchased US$ 3.84 billion dollars worth of oil from them, a move that could have geopolitical and economic ramifications for both parties.

In 2015, the Financial Times reported that Israel had imported as much as 77 percent of its oil supply from Kurdistan.

The Kurds are the largest group of nomadic people in the world that have remained stateless since the beginning of time. This fact has allowed Western powers to use the "stateless" plight of the Kurdish people as a tool to divide, destabilise and conquer Iraq and Syria, where oil and gas interests run deep.

Consistently portrayed as "freedom fighters" who are eternally struggling for a land denied to them, the Kurds have been frequently used throughout history by other countries and empires as an arrow and have never themselves been the bow. (DS)