ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – British officials and Middle East experts participated in a public forum organized by the UK-based Centre for Kurdish Progress on Tuesday to discuss the challenges faced by the Kurdistan Region following the historic Sep. 25 independence referendum.
The event, titled “Causes and Consequences: Regional and International Response’s to Kurdistan’s Independence Referendum,” was hosted by Mary Glindon, a Labour Party MP for North Tyneside in the House of Commons, and chaired by Gary Kent, the Secretary of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Kurdistan.
Notable speakers included Dr. Mohammed Shareef, a Lecturer in Politics and International Relations of the Middle East at University of Exeter and Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society (London), and Bill Park, a Visiting Research Fellow in the Defense Studies Department at King’s College in London.
Following the September vote, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has experienced a host of challenges and has seen its relationship with the central government in Baghdad deteriorate.
According to a readout of the forum, Shareef outlined the developments since the referendum, highlighting Baghdad’s Oct. 16 invasion of Kirkuk and other disputed areas that participated in the vote.
He argued that “Kurds only attempted to enjoy their right to self-determination proscribed by the international law” as outlined in the Iraqi Constitution.
Shareef also analyzed the reactions from neighboring countries like Iran and Turkey, as well as the silence from the West as Iraqi forces and Iran-backed militias advanced to take over Kirkuk, driving hundreds of thousands of Kurdish civilians from their homes.
“Turkey and Iran were both concerned about losing control over the Kurds in Iraq as both countries rely on Kurds from trade to security in the region,” he said.
“The Kurds are the West’s strategic ally when it suits them and when there is hostility in Iraq and in the region,” Shareef added, referring to the US and other western countries’ “mixed messages” regarding support for the independence referendum.
Meanwhile, Park argued that the West was concerned about “further instability in Iraq, and Turkey and Iran’s concerns regarding their territorial integrity if Kurds in Iraq were to become independent.”
“The US would not support an independent Kurdistan so long as there is a stable Iraq to fight for against Iran,” he claimed.
Although the Kurdistan Region’s referendum received overwhelming majority for secession from Iraq, Baghdad responded negatively by imposing several punitive measures against the KRG including an international flight ban and the use of military force in disputed areas.
A series of meetings between Kurdish and Iraqi officials since then have quelled the tensions between Erbil and Baghdad as the Kurds continue to push for their rights to be recognized.