As a result of air bombardments and fierce street fighting, Mosul has been virtually turned into a ghost town with almost no buildings that are not demolished or damaged, and the heavy scent of the unburied dead covers the streets. Even though the catastrophe and destruction brought by the operation is painfully obvious, according to Iraqi Prime Minister Ibadi, “a great victory” was won. The detail that didn’t go unnoticed was that even though the operation was closely monitored by the media for months, the news of its result was not as sensational as expected. The main reason for this is the emergence of a new development regarding the near future of Iraq; the realization of a highly dangerous development that could light the fuse of new wars and conflicts.
The subject, which led to controversy and great unrest, is a referendum. An independence referendum will be held on September 25th, as Mesud Barzani, President of the Iraqi Kurdish Regional Government (IKRG) announced. The voters living in northern Iraq will be asked whether they want an independent Kurdistan. The referendum, consisting of a single and easy question, no doubt brings with it concerns regarding the possible consequences of it, even though the IKRG authorities claim otherwise.
First of all, the difference between this referendum and the one in 2005 is the fact that this will be an official one. More importantly, it is perhaps the last step before the IKRG formally secedes from Iraq and the disintegration of Iraq begins. Barzani’s recent statements, which reveal his determination in this regard, suggest that it is not merely a temporary political maneuver: “I was born for the independence of Kurdistan… I want to die in the shadow of the flag of an independent Kurdistan… All of these steps are for an independent Kurdistan.”
Beyond this, there is another point in the IKRG statements which is almost an invitation for new conflicts. It is planned for that referendum to not only cover the territories of the Iraqi Autonomous Kurdistan Region, but also other controversial places, such as Kirkuk, Sinjar, Makhmur and Khanaqin. These have been regions of conflict between Baghdad and Erbil, in other words, between Arabs and Kurds, for many years, along with the fact that they are under the control of the IKRG. Kirkuk especially is considered a red line for both sides. So long as the parties fail to agree on the division of land, government, authority and natural wealth, undesirable developments will be inevitable. The Iraqi central government responding harshly to the IKRG’s efforts towards independence is an undesirable, but possible, outcome.
On the IKRG side, there is serious opposition to the referendum. The initiator of the initiative was the Democratic Party of Kurdistan under Barzani’s leadership; the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan under the leadership of Jalal Talabani has provided conditional support. The other two major parties of the IKRG Parliament, the Movement for Change (Goran) and the Islamic Movement of Kurdistan, are objecting to the September referendum. They state that the priority of the IKRG should be to respond to the ongoing political and economic crisis in northern Iraq. Considering that IKBY Parliament has been closed since 2015, a formal constitution has yet to be realized, and the government in Erbil is barely able to pay salaries, their demand certainly has merit. Moreover, the other communities living in the region, namely Arabs, Turkmens and even Shiite Kurds (Feylis) want unity, not separation.
Judging by the responses, it seems that the IKRG will certainly not receive the support it expects from the world. The UN announced that it “has no intention to be engaged in any way or form as concerns the referendum”. The United States stated that they “support a unified, stable, democratic, and a federal Iraq”; Russia, on the other hand, declared that it “supports Iraq’s unity and integrity”. Germany warned that the IKRG should avoid taking a unilateral decision and stated that attempting to establish a new state in the region would be equivalent of “playing with fire.” The two great powers of the region, Turkey and Iran, have opposed the referendum decision on the grounds that it do nothing but serve to increase tensions and instability. Such an initiative, which faces opposition from almost all of the international powers and neighbouring countries, has a very low chance of success.
For a moment, let us assume that Northern Iraq is an independent state under the current circumstances. At best, this would be a weak and powerless state with difficulties standing on its own feet, having great problems due to its neighbors, struggling with political and economic crises domestically, and also standing alone against a fierce terrorist organization like the PKK. This would be done for the sake of economic stability, but in reality, it will not bring the expected peace, stability and prosperity to the Kurdish population of the region and other communities. In order for this peace and prosperity to be attained, the region needs to solve its own problems on peaceful grounds. If Iraq is divided and a new Kurdish state is established in the currently fragile situation of the Middle East, the greatest damage may be sustained by innocent, modest and moral Kurdish people and the other people of the region.
Although the idea of independence at first may be appealing and attractive, it would be best if the IKRG abandons its emotional approach and decides matters with common sense. The Middle East is currently unresponsive to regional efforts of recovery; any salvation should come from a project which will cover the entirety of the Middle East. It is not possible to avoid dangers through isolation from the region. This shows how important it is for the Muslim people of the Middle East to act together for salvation.
The complex problems of Iraq can be solved more easily by protecting the national integrity of Iraq. This solution is achieved not through divisions but with cooperation, solidarity, compromise. The problems can be solved by the unified action of all Muslims, whether they are Kurds, Arabs, Sunnis or Shiites. Solidarity, not division, is required for the avoidance of new suffering and hardships and for the eagerly anticipated peace, stability, justice and prosperity, cooperation is required, not conflict. It is much easier to build a sense of national unity with understanding and brotherhood if the people believe in the same God, the same religion, the same Book and the same prophets, if they turn to the same Qibla, if they pray in the same mosques and share the same culture and values. But first, it is necessary to believe in this, to identify the centers of malice that provoke division and to silence these evil groups, and to constantly express the idea that alliance is the only way to stability. It should not be forgotten that the factor which has always weakened Islamic societies has been their division.
The author is a prominent Turkish writer and activist. He blogs at: www.harunyahya.com