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Richard Mellor

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Referendum on Kurdish Independence in Northern Iraq
« on: September 13, 2017, 06:00:10 AM »
Referendum on Kurdish Independence in Northern Iraq

We share this commentary for the interest of our readers. It is at the website of the  Alliance of Syrian and Iranian Socialists. It was originally published on the blog Syrian Freedom Forever.
 
Referendum on Kurdish independence in Northern Iraq: Between hope and contradictions     
     Kurdistanflag24 (3)

A  referendum on the independence of the Iraqi Kurdistan, an autonomous  region of northern Iraq since 1991 and composed of three provinces, will  take place on September 25, 2017.
 
The vote will not be binding, but will trigger the independence  process if the yes votes win. The Iraqi central government, dominated by  the Shi?a Islamic fundamentalist movement, Da?wa, and many states in  the region, including Turkey and Iran, are opposed to this referendum.  At the international level, Russia, the United States and the European  Union are suspicious of this poll.
 
Opposition from Baghdad
 The Iraqi central government in Baghdad denounced the referendum as  contrary to the Constitution. The Iraqi government is also opposed to  the integration into the future Iraqi Kurdistan of the ?disputed  regions?, particularly those in northern Iraq, including the  multi-ethnic and oil-rich province of Kirkuk, claimed by both the  Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and the Iraqi government.
 
On August 29, Kirkuk Governor Najmuddin Kareem announced the  participation of the city in the referendumafter a majority of the  provincial council voted in favor of taking part. However the vote was  far from a consensus, quite the contrary. Only 24 of the 41 council  members attended the vote, with 23 voting in favor of participating in  the referendum. One abstained. The remaining council members ? all Arabs  and Turkmen ? boycotted the vote. Instead, they issued statements  denouncing the vote as ?unconstitutional?.
 
Iraqi Sunni MP Mohammed al-Karbouli, from the coalition al-Haq (the  solution? declared that this decision was ?a stark violation of the  constitution and a determined move to confiscate the rights of the Arab  and Turkmen in Kirkuk. The government should intervene to stop this  violation?. On his side, Iraqi Prime Minister Hayder al-Abadi denounced  this outcome as ?wrong?.
 
Kurdish peshmerga fighters seized control of Kirkuk in 2014 when the  Iraqi army fled from Islamic State?s offensive across northern and  western Iraq. Hence, the peshmarga prevented the region?s oil fields  from falling into the hands of the jihadists.
 
The Iraqi Kurdistan region has a population of 5.5 million, of which  about 4.6 million are Kurds. This population increases up to 7.7 million  if the ?disputed regions? are included.
 
We should remember however that one of the main provisions of the  Constitution voted in 2005 stipulates that the central government should  organize a referendum in the ?disputed regions? before December 31,  2007, in order for the populations concerned to freely decide whether or  not they belong to the Kurdistan region. The Iraqi regions populated  mostly by Sunni Arabs have also not been able to decide by referendum  whether or not they could transform their province into a federated  region, in other words with more autonomy.
 
One of the last links between the KRG and Baghdad was the financial  allocation to the Kurdistan region, which accounted for 17% of the Iraqi  budget. However, that was ceased after January 2014. Since then, Iraqi  Kurdistan has been hit by a deep financial crisis. That is not just  because Baghdad ended its financial allocation. The decline in oil  prices, corruption and clientelism also explain the economic  difficulties. The poverty rate has increased dramatically among the  population of the autonomous Kurdish region, while strikes in public  services have multiplied in protest against late payment and / or  reduction in wages.
 
Moreover, the region suffered from the military conflict with the  troops of the Islamic State and the influx of large numbers of refugees  from the invasions caused by the jihadist group.
 
Regional and International Oppositions
 The announcement of the referendum has also sparked opposition from  neighboring states such as Turkey and Iran. Ankara and Teheran fear that  such a process will have consequences for their own Kurdish minorities,  who also suffer from the discriminatory and oppressive policies of  these regimes. Turkey, which has excellent relations with the KRG and  the Barzani family and is the first investor in Iraqi Kurdistan,  denounced the referendum as a ?terrible mistake? and reiterated its  support for ?the territorial integrity of Iraq?.
 
The United States, Russia and the main European states are also  reluctant to support the idea of independence and are in favor of  maintaining Iraq?s unity, despite very close relations with the KRG,  notably in the fight against the Islamic State. The United States even  tried to convince Kurdish officials to postpone the referendum. The  Western states would like it to be postponed for several years, fearing  that the vote would trigger a new conflict with Baghdad and turn into  another regional crisis.
 
A capitalist and corrupt ruling class 
 The vast majority of Iraqi Kurds support the idea of independence.  Some discordant voices call for the postponement of the referendum and  oppose the political leadership of the KRG which is dominated by the  following parties: 1. The Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) led by  Massoud Barzani, the son of Mustapha Barzani, a legendary figure of the  Iraqi Kurdish rebellion, and 2. the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK),  which is dominated by the former president of Iraq, Jalal Talabani.   These two parties have been sharing power for a quarter of a century in  Iraqi Kurdistan, despite periods of bloody conflict between them that  killed more than 3,000 persons in the 1990s.
 
Massoud Barzani is nevertheless the strong man of Iraqi Kurdistan. He  and his family monopolize a large number of political positions. A U.S.  State Department cable leaked by Wikileaks noted that ?The KDP consists  of family clans, operating very much like a mafia organization. For  example, Massoud Barzani?s uncle is Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, his  nephew/son-in-law is KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, and his son  Masrur is Head of KRG?s Intelligence Directorate?.
Massoud Barzani still  governs the KRG despite the end of his official mandate in August 2015.

President Masoud Barzani?s term in office actually ended in 2013 after  serving two four-year terms and was then extended for two years by an  act from the then KDP-PUK dominated parliament.
 The political system in Iraqi Kurdistan was suspended in October 2015  after an attempt to turn it into a parliamentary system that would have  greatly diluted Barzani?s powers. All other democratically elected  institutions were frozen or controlled by the party of the ?unelected?  president. There are and have been also attacks and actions of  repression by the KRG security forces against journalists, activists and  political opponents critical of its policies, as well as against  protests movements.
 
Following the 2011 Tunisian and Egyptian protests, another political  party, the Movement for Change, called for the resignation of the  Cabinet and the disbanding of the Kurdistan Regional Government. In  February and March 2011 protests against the KRG were violently  repressed, two protesters were killed and several others were wounded.  The party Movement for Change (known as Goran), which played a leading  role in these protests and demanded the resignation of the Cabinet and  the disbanding of the KRG, was also the target of the repression. The  KRG security forces burnt down several buildings belonging to Movement  for Change, including a TV and radio station. In October 2015, the KDP  imposed a suspension on all Gorran members of government and dismissed  the Gorran peshmerga minister and his adviser.
 
The historical political relations between the State of Israel and  the Barzani family must also be condemned. Moreover, in Iraqi Kurdistan,  Mossad agents or former Israeli soldiers have been quietly training  Kurdish security forces. The KRG has also sold large quantities of oil  to the State of Israel in recent years through international trading  companies and without the approval of the authorities in Baghdad. In  this affair, this oil passed through an oil pipeline to the Turkish port  of Ceyhan, on the Mediterranean Sea. Turkey, allied with the Kurdish  government of Massoud Barzani, has facilitated this long-standing  affair. Ankara opened an account for Erbil in the Turkish public bank,  Halk and stored Kurdish oil waiting for buyers. KDP Peshmerga forces are  being trained by Turkish Special Forces in the Kurdish city of Zakho.
 
On its side, the PUK maintains good relations with Iran and has  coordinated its peshmerga operations on some occasions with Shi?a  Islamic militias controlled by Iran in the past, notably in Diyala  Province.
 
Conclusion
 It is certain that through this referendum, these two Kurdish parties  of the KDP and PUK, intend to strengthen their political and economic  power and above all to try to divert popular anger against their  neoliberal, clientelist and corrupt management of affairs. There should  be no illusions about the emancipatory potential of these parties allied  to the various international and regional imperialisms. They also often  acted against the Kurdish populations and political forces present in  other countries.
 We must nevertheless support the possibility for the Kurdish people  in Iraq to decide their own future in total independence, in other words  the right to self-determination, including separation from the Iraqi  state. It is important, however, that the rights of ethnic (Arabs,  Turkmens, Assyrians) and religious minorities (Christian, Yazidi, etc)  also be guaranteed in the process of independence.
 
The right to self-determination for all oppressed people is a  fundamental element of their liberation. For decades, this right has  been denied to the Kurdish people who have suffered from the violent  repression and oppression imposed by the chauvinistic regional states  and betrayals of various imperialist states.
 
Let us therefore support the self-determination of the Kurdish  popular classes in Iraq while opposing the bourgeois and authoritarian  leadership of the KDP and PUK.
 
Joseph Daher
 September 4, 2017
Source: Referendum on Kurdish Independence in Northern Iraq