Iraq’s Sunni Mufti: Shiite-Led Baghdad’s ‘Oppression’ Drove Kurdistan’s Independence Effort

Iraqi Kurds wave the Kurdish flag as they celebrate the independence referendum in the streets of the northern city of Arbil on September 27, 2017 in Iraq's autonomous northern Kurdish region. Official results showed 92.73 percent of voters backing statehood in Monday's non-binding referendum, which Iraq's central government rejected as …
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Shiite-led Baghdad’s “oppression” prompted the autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan region to determine its fate in an independence referendum vote last week, argues the mufti of Iraq’s Sunni minority.

Sunni Mufti Rafi al-Rufai made those comments in a message read by his representative Abdulwahab Ani during a press conference Iraqi Kurdistan’s capital Erbil, reports Kurdish news agency Rudaw.

Baghdad’s “baseless” decision to cut the Kurdistan region’s budget share in 2014, during Shiite Nouri al-Maliki’s tenure as Iraq’s prime minister pushed the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to seek independence, indicated the Sunni leader, according to his representative.

“When oppressions accumulated against the Kurdish nation, they began holding a referendum to stay away from these tyrants,” said Ani, reading from the Sunni cleric’s message.

“If the judges were just for the people preserving their homes and dignity … the Kurdish nation would not hold the referendum to determine their fate. But they continued their tyranny,” added Mufti Rufai, referring to authorities in Baghdad.

Last week, a group of Sunni Arab tribal leaders expressed support for the non-binding independence referendum passed by the KRG last Monday, saying, “the Sunni Arabs voice support and coordination with Kurdistan and honor their will and decisions.”

The Sunni mufti denounced Baghdad’s “sectarian” policies, echoing the position of tribal leaders.

Mufti Rufai said, ”The main dangerous thing that these governments carried with them was the disgusting sectarianism which partitioned the integrity of this country and spread hatred among the components of this country.”

Shiite-led Baghdad has long disenfranchised the country’s Sunni minority.

Iraqi Kurds overwhelmingly voted “yes” to independence despite objections from Baghdad and the United States.

Neighboring Iran, Turkey, and Syria are also opposed to the move, claiming that it will motivate their respective Kurdish populations to seek independence as well.

Opposition to the outcome of the referendum has made for some strange bedfellows.

Shiite Iraq and Iran have joined forces with Sunni-majority Turkey, threatening military action and overall “coordination” in their response to the independence vote.

Iran maintains a significant level of influence over Shiite-led Iraq.

“Those running and ruling Iraq are associated with Iranian politicians,” argued the Sunni cleric.

While the majority of Kurds are Sunni, there are some Shiites in and around the Kurdish region in Iran.

The Sunni mufti accused the Iraqi government and its Iranian-backed Shiite militias of “destroying Sunni cities and homes, all of this under the pretext of liberating them from ISIS [Islamic State].”

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