http://www.digitaljournal.com/news/politics/op-ed-iraq-s-kurds-to-vote-on-independence-on-september-25th/article/494726

Op-Ed: Iraq's Kurds to vote on independence on September 25th

Posted Jun 9, 2017 by Ken Hanly
Top government officials and political parties in the autonomous Kurdistan Region of Iraq have agreed that there will be a referendum on independence on September 25th this year.
Iraqi Kurdish regional president Massud Barzani has been in power since 2004
Iraqi Kurdish regional president Massud Barzani has been in power since 2004
Safin Hamed, AFP/File
The date was set at a meeting in Irbil chaired by the President of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) Massoud Barzani. A statement was issued saying that the referendum would be held in the three provinces that make up the region but also "areas of Kurdistan outside the region's administration" The central government has urged the KRG not to hold the referendum. Neighboring countries such as Iran, Turkey and Syria all with Kurdish minority populations have all opposed a referendum as has the US.
After the announcement the US State Department expressed concern about the vote saying there were more urgent priorities in Iraq than the independence of the Kurdish people. The department claimed that the vote risked being a distraction from the war against the Islamic State. However, by September the IS may be close to defeat in Iraq. In spite of the support given to Kurdish forces in the fight against the IS both in Iraq and Syria, the US has long supported a unified Iraq and opposed secession. However, the US did say the Kurds did have legitimate expectations meaning perhaps that they might support some further autonomy.
In April, a senior Kurdish official Hoshyar Zebari said that a "yes" vote did not necessarily mean independence would be declared but that it would held the KRG negotiate the best deal with the central government. In driving the IS out of some regions, the Kurdish Peshmerga have taken control of some disputed regions. This includes the oil rich city of Kirkuk and region, Makhmour, Khanigan, and Sinjar. These are all regions where voting on independence will take place in September. This is bound to produce anger in Baghdad.
In April, PM of Iraq Haider al-Abadi had said: "The desire of our Kurdish brothers to create a country of their own is their right... and nobody has the right to deter them. But holding a referendum at this time is not right as the war [against IS] still rages, the region's situation is not suitable, and some neighbouring countries believe this move poses a threat to the nation's security themselves."
The governor of Kirkuk Naimadin Karim called the decision to hold the referendum important. Baghdad considers his province 'disputed territory'. Karim said that the vote will eventually lead to declaring independence. Kurdish PM Barzani said on Monday that times had changed and that there was no longer a term such as "disputed territory" in their dictionary. Since Kurdish peshmerga now control the Kirkuk and other territories taken from the IS, it seems they will be unwilling to return them to Baghdad's jurisdiction. Karim said: “Referendum will certainly be held to walk towards independence and eventually achieving independence. I am sure the people of Kirkuk will support and vote for it, not only Kurds, but also Arabs and Turkmen." Kirkuk is a multi-ethnic city with Turkmen and Arabs as well as Kurds. It remains to be seen whether the referendum will result in ethnic tensions. Certainly there will be objections from Baghdad. Turkey has already voiced its disapproval of the referendum.