Baghdad and Erbil dispute about the legitimacy of the forthcoming plebiscite

Tense situation around the Kurdistan referendum

Referendum on independence in the Kurdish-controlled regions of the Northern Iraq will be conducted on September 25. In this regard, there are the growing tensions in the country and the surrounding region. Neighboring states and Western powers insist on the postponement of the referendum. The USA and its allies believe that it is absolutely untimely plebiscite which will split the ranks of opponents of ISIS. Iraq's neighbors are concerned about the influence of the steps of Iraqi Kurdistan to independence on the mood of the Kurdish national minority in their countries. The Central Iraqi government is also worried as it concerns the preservation of the territorial integrity of the country, already torn by ethnic and religious contradictions.

Recently there was another aggravation of the situation, when the Iraqi Parliament condemned the referendum as contrary to the Constitution and urged the Prime Minister Abadi to take all measures in order to cancel the vote. The head of government made a statement where he noted that he would not allow the partition of Iraq and warned the Kurdish Autonomous region that it could lose all the achievements that it has made since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. KAR President Massoud Barzani described the Abadi’s warning as a threat and stressed that the region is ready to use right of self-defense in case of attempts of some detractors “to violate the will of the Kurdish people.”

It is unlikely that Massoud Barzani believes in the existence of such a threat. The Iraqi government army is weak and mired in military actions against ISIS. The so-called Forces of popular mobilization, consisting of Shiite militias, are more numerous and capable. However, these militias are divided, as they guided by the various leaders and also linked to a kind of military brotherhood with the Kurdish peshmergas. The leadership in Baghdad stated that it didn't consider the referendum as the end of the path in the protection of Iraqi unity.

It is unclear why the leader of the KAR spoke so harshly. Some experts explain that Erbil will use the “window of opportunity” opened as a result of the growth of sympathy for the Kurds, who took an active part in the fight against ISIS. When these pseudo-Islamists will be finally defeated, the help of the Kurds will lose relevance.  But most likely, the leaders of KAR are guided by political reasons. This is evidenced by the appointment of presidential and parliamentary elections in the region in exactly 35 days after the referendum. Their calculation is simple: the party which supporting the referendum, will automatically get a bonus in the eyes of the voters because of the huge popularity of the idea of independence among the Kurds. Those who opposed the plebiscite, in particular the party “Gorran,” which has the second largest faction in the national Parliament, may lose electoral support.

Nevertheless, Massoud Barzani promised not to run for President. However, the position of his clan holding the power in Iraqi Kurdistan for decades is very strong. The nephew of Massoud Barzani – Nechirvan is the head of government autonomy, and the son of the President is the head of a leading intelligence agencies. Thus, even if Massoud Barzani would fulfill his promise, he will be able to control the power through his appointees from the “shadow positions”. It is also important that he will go down in history of the Kurdish people as a “liberator.”

The Baghdad and Erbil dispute about the legitimacy of the upcoming referendum, which did not quite conform to the Constitution. Referendum supporters accuse the Central government in violation of many provisions of the Constitution. It can also take place, especially given the vagueness and of the basic law, adopted during the American occupation administration. However, let the parties argue, while they remaining in the legal field and avoiding unilateral actions. Peace in the country and in the region is too fragile, and the threat comes entirely from other forces.

Iraq ISIS Kurdistan referendum