The Shiite-led government in Baghdad has warned that Iraq is teetering on the brink of civil war over its autonomous Kurdistan region’s refusal to cancel the outcome of its independence referendum.
Kurds overwhelmingly voted “yes” to independence on September 25, prompting Baghdad, Iran, and Turkey to threaten to take coordinated measures if Iraqi Kurdistan does not cancel the results, including military action.
Although Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) President Masoud Barzani recently said that Kurds are open to dialogue, he made it clear that “no one should think about canceling the results of the referendum,” reports Rudaw, citing a Facebook post from a senior assistant to the KRG leader.
“We want to reach an agreement on post-referendum stage through dialogue and patience,” with Baghdad, reportedly indicated Barzani during a meeting over the weekend with Iraqi parliament speaker Salim al-Jabouri in Erbil, the capital of Kurdistan.
Nevertheless, Rudaw notes, “The Iraqi government and parliament has called on the Kurdish government to first cancel the outcome of the vote before any talks can be held within the framework of the Iraqi constitution.”
In an interview with the Associated Press (AP) on Monday, Iraqi Vice President Ayad Allawi warned that Baghdad and Erbil’s failure to resolve their soaring independence referendum-linked tensions might trigger a “civil war” over the Kurdish-administered city of Kirkuk, the capital of a province of the same name.
Iraqi VP Allawi urged his government, KRG President Barzani, and a Baghdad-sanctioned umbrella organization of predominantly Shiite militias backed by Iran to find a solution to their disagreements over the disputed Kirkuk province.
Both Baghdad and Erbil claim ownership of the KRG-controlled province.
Known as the Popular Mobilization Units/Forces (PMU/PMF) and Hashd al-Shaabi, the Iran-allied Shiite militiamen threatened to “liberate” Kirkuk from the “separatist” KRG in response to the independence referendum.
Iraqi VP Allawi noted that any attempt by the Iran-allied PMU troops to march Kirkuk city would “damage all possibilities for unifying Iraq” and open the door to “violent conflict.”
“The government claims they control the Popular Mobilization Forces. If they do, they should restrain them, rather than go into a kind of civil war. And there should be a restraint on Masoud Barzani and the Peshmerga not to take aggressive measures to control these lands,” Allawi told AP.
This year, Robin Wright of the U.S. Institute of Peace at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars warned that the Iran-allied militia group, known as the Popular Mobilization Units/Forces (PMU/PMF) and Hashd al-Shaabi, will cause the “next war in Iraq.”
Ahead of the independence vote last month, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) warned that failure to resolve the Kirkuk ownership issue “could devolve into a civil strife in Iraq.”
PMU fighters already clashed with Kurdish Peshmerga troops in the Kirkuk region before the September 25 independence vote.
Iran maintains a significant level of influence over Shiite-led Baghdad.
Nevertheless, AP describes the Shiite Iraqi VP as one of Iran’s few detractors in Baghdad.
On Monday, the vice president warned against opening the door to interference on the Kurdish independence question from other countries, echoing Kurdish Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani.
Iraqi Kurdistan held its independence referendum despite objections from the United States, Baghdad, and nearly the entire international community, with the notable exception of Israel and Russia to a lesser degree.
Neighbors of northern Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region, namely Iran, Turkey, and Syria, are opposed to an independent Iraqi Kurdistan state, citing fears that the move will fuel separatism among their Kurdish populations.