Iraqi Kurds Announce September Independence Referendum

Iraqi Kurds protest and wave flags of their autonomous Kurdistan region during a demonstration to claim for its independence on July 3, 2014 outside the Kurdistan parliament building in Arbil, in northern Iraq. The Kurdish leader, Massud Barzani asked its parliament to start organizing a referendum on independence. AFP PHOTO …

The autonomous Iraqi region of Kurdistan has announced an independence referendum to take place this September, in a move likely to anger officials in Iraq.

“I am pleased to announce that the date for the independence referendum has been set for Monday, Sept. 25, 2017,” Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani wrote on Twitter.

“President Masoud Barzani held a meeting today with the representatives of the political parties across the Kurdistan Region. During the meeting, President Barzani and the attendees discussed several salient issues including the upcoming parliamentary elections, the current political and economic situations and the issue of the independence referendum,” a statement from Barzani’s office read.

“The President, along with the representatives of the political parties and slates decided that the date for the independence referendum shall be Monday, September 25, 2017. It will be on that day when the people of the Kurdistan Region, as well as those living in the disputed areas, will cast their votes on whether they accept independence for the Kurdistan,” it continued.

The move is likely to receive opposition from the ruling Shi’ite coalition in Baghdad, who have previously said they will oppose any attempts to hold a referendum or annex any regions important to Iraqi interests, such as the oil-rich province of Kirkuk.

In an interview with Reuters in April, coalition president Ammar al-Hakim said that any referendum would be unilateral and they would “insist on dialogue” to resolve the dispute.

“We believe that the politics of accomplished facts and drawing borders with blood hasn’t succeeded in any country of the world and won’t have good results in Iraq either,” Hakim said.

However, past opinion polls suggest that a “yes” vote is highly likely and could win by a landslide, which Kurdish leaders have said will strengthen their negotiating position in talks with Baghdad and other affected regions such as Turkey and Syria.

“The purpose of the referendum is to seek out the opinion of the Kurds and then start a dialogue with Baghdad,” Barzani told reporters on Thursday.

In recent years, Kurdish forces have played a vital role alongside U.S. forces in the battle against Islamic State and are currently squeezing the organization out of its stronghold in Mosul. They have also claimed to control Kirkuk, which they will likely seek to hold onto as part of their independence process.

Historically, the United States has opposed Iraqi Kurdish independence, instead preferring a policy of “One Iraq.” However, the Obama administration last year said that any decision on independence should be left to the Kurdish people.

Since taking office, President Donald Trump has shifted America’s policy towards the Kurds, approving efforts to directly arm fighters from People’s Protection Units (YPG) currently fighting ISIS in Syria, despite opposition from Turkey. However, they are yet to make any official statement on the possibility of an independent Kurdistan.

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