Russia: Iraqi Kurds Have a ‘Right’ to Hold an Independence Referendum

IRAQ, SINJAR : Iraqi autonomous Kurdish region's peshmerga forces and fighters from the Yazidi minority, a local Kurdish-speaking community which the Islamic State (IS) group had brutally targeted in the area, raise the Kurdish flag in northern Iraqi town of Sinjar, in the Nineveh Province, on November 13, 2015. Iraqi …
AFP PHOTO / SAFIN HAMED
EDWIN MORA

The autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan region “must be” allowed to hold an independence referendum this year because they have the “right” to express their aspirations to break away from Iraq, declared Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in an interview with Kurdish news outlet Rudaw.

“It is important for us that the Kurds like all other people of the world achieve their ambitions and legal rights and political goals,” proclaimed Lavrov, noting that Russia would support a “peaceful” implementation of the upcoming referendum’s goals.

His comments came soon after he held a meeting in Moscow with Iraq’s Vice President Nouri al-Maliki, who reportedly stressed Baghdad’s opposition to Kurdish independence.

Iraqi Kurdistan is expected to hold a vote on independence in September.

“We see the referendum as the expression of the ambitions of the Kurdish people and as far as I know the majority of the population of the Kurdish autonomous region support this referendum,” said Lavrov, adding, “We are ready to help Baghdad and Erbil in a process that would respect both sides.”

“The desires and legal goals of the Kurds must be fulfilled like that of all other peoples, and according to the right that they have within the international law and that is tied to the decision which we understand has been made in Erbil to hold a referendum,” he noted.

Meanwhile, Lavrov indicated that Russia wants to keep Syria together. There was no sign of Russian support for an independent Kurdish state within Syria.

The Russian-backed regime of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad along with Turkey and Iran reportedly fear that the adjacent Kurdish territories within their borders may follow in the footsteps of Iraqi Kurdistan and also try to seek independence, a concern that Kurds in Iraq have dismissed as baseless.

Echoing the once held position of the Kurdistan region in Iraq, Kurds in Syria recently said they only want greater autonomy. In a draft constitution put together by Russia, the Kremlin proposes a “power-sharing” structure between the different groups in the country. Syrian Kurds “must be part of the agreements and they must believe that their rights are protected within Syria,” Lavrov told Rudaw.

Sam Yono, a spokesperson for the American Middle East Coalition for President-elect Donald Trump, indicated in early November 2016 that the current administration would not “stand in the way” of Iraqi Kurdish independence as long Baghdad is onboard.

However, the Trump administration has not explicitly said whether it will support the upcoming referendum or adhere to America’s long held One Iraq Policy position.

Trump’s State Departement did signal opposition to Kurdish independence last month, saying a referendum “at this time” would distract from “more urgent priorities,” including the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) and efforts to resolve Kurdistan’s “internal political disputes.”

Moreover, the Republican-led Congress has threatened to cut funding to the KRG if it ceases to participate “in the government of a unified Iraq.”

During their meeting, Lavrov and Iraq’s al-Malik in Moscow discussed how their two countries can further develop and strengthen their economic and counterterrorism ties.

“We support our relations with all the political movements of Iraqi Kurdistan, and we do that in a way that will not negatively impact our relations with the Iraqi government,” Lavrov told Rudaw, adding, “I’ll remind you that we have mutual interests [with Kurdistan] and we want economic, trade and investment ties between us to grow.”

Russia has a consulate in northern Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in turn has representation in Moscow.

“Our relations are historic, and we have been expanding them for years, especially with the head of the government and other officials of the autonomous Kurdish region,” noted Lavrov.

Iran, which is considered an ally of both Russia and Iraq, has long been against Kurdish independence in neighboring Iraq out of concern that it would incite Kurds within its borders to demand the same thing.

Last year, Russia established an intelligence-sharing coalition with Iran, Iraq, and Syria without notifying the United States.

Military and financial support from Russia and Iran has allowed Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad to remain in office.

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