Opposition to Kurdish Independence Makes for Strange Bedfellows: Trump Administration and Iran

TOPSHOT - An Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighter, next to an Iraqi Kurds flag, holds a position in Sheikh Ali village near the town of Bashiqa, some 25 kilometres north east of Mosul, on November 6, 2016 during an operation against Islamic State (IS) group jihadists to retake the main hub …
SAFIN HAMED/AFP/Getty Images

The United Nations, echoing the United States and Iran, has come out against Iraqi Kurdistan’s independence referendum, scheduled to pass this month.

Opposition to the September 25 independence vote has made for some strange bedfellows, namely U.S.-designated state-sponsor of terrorism Iran and the United States itself.

Meanwhile, Iran’s enemy Israel is reportedly the only country that supports Iraqi Kurdistan becoming an independent state.

Citing mutual economic, trade, and investment interests between the Kremlin and Iraqi Kurdistan, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov did declare this year that 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.

It is unclear whether Lavrov’s comments represent the official position of the Kremlin.

Israeli newspaper Haaretz argued in late August that Russia in on board with Iran, Turkey, Iraq, and Syria to stop the KRG’s independence vote.

Russia has been lending support to the Iran-backed regime of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, which opposes the Kurdish referendum.

However, the Kremlin-controlled oil company Rosneft announced that it is investing nearly $1 billion in gas pipelines in Iraq’s Kurdistan region.

The move, announced only days before the vote, would expand Russia’s “commitment to the region ahead of its independence vote to help it become a major exporter of gas to Turkey and Europe,” reports Reuters.

Turkey has dismissed the upcoming Kurdish independence vote as a threat to its national security, carrying out military drills at its border with Iraq on Monday.

“The exercises came as Turkey, the central government in Baghdad and their shared neighbor Iran all stepped up protests and warnings about the looming plebiscite in semi-autonomous Kurdish northern Iraq,” reports Reuters.

On Monday, the Federal Supreme Court of Iraq, echoing a recent statement from the White House, ordered the independence referendum to be suspended.

“The Federal Supreme Court has issued the order to suspend organizing the referendum set for September 25 … until it examines the complaints it has received over this plebiscite being unconstitutional,” proclaims the top court in the country in a statement, reports Kurdistan 24.

According to the court, several complaints against the vote fueled its decision.

Consistent with the position of its top financial contributor the United States, the United Nations expressed dismay towards the independence referendum.

On Sunday, Stephane Dujarric, a spokesman for the international body, said that the U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had declared any unilateral decision to hold a vote would detract from the need to annihilate the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL).

Urging that Shiite-led Baghdad approach the matter with “patience and compromise,” Dujarric declared that Secretary-General Guterres respects Iraq’s “sovereignty, territorial integrity and unity” and believes all issues between the country’s government and the KRG should be resolved through dialogue and compromise.

The U.S.-led coalition against ISIS considers the KRG’s Peshmerga fighters to be one of the most productive forces against the jihadist group.

Nevertheless, U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has expressed disapproval of the Kurdish independence vote, arguing that the KRG should cancel it because it was “distracting” from the international effort against ISIS.

“The United States does not support the Kurdistan Regional Government’s intention to hold a referendum later this month,” said White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders last Friday. “The United States has repeatedly emphasized to the leaders of the Kurdistan Regional Government that the referendum is distracting from efforts to defeat [the Islamic State] and stabilize the liberated areas.”

Sanders called on the KRG to engage in a new round of “serious and sustained dialogue with Baghdad” that may lead to even more autonomy for their territory in northern Iraq.

Despite the U.S.’s position, the Kurdish parliament voted in favor of the referendum on Friday.

“It’s not clear where President Donald Trump himself stands on whether the Kurds deserve their own country,” reported Politico. “But some top members of his administration, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis, have spent weeks trying to persuade Kurdish leaders to call off the vote.”

Iraqi Kurdistan has long been calling for independence.

As it became evident that ISIS was facing imminent defeat in Iraq, the Kurds who continue to cooperate in the fight against the terrorist group, indicated in April that they would move ahead with an independence referendum.

The U.N. chief argued that the independence vote would also detract from the reconstruction of territory regained from ISIS and the safe return of over 3 million people displaced by the jihadist group.

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