WASHINGTON DC, United States (Kurdistan24) – Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, Representative of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) to Washington DC, on Monday briefed local reporters about the upcoming Kurdish independence referendum.
The event marked the beginning of the KRG’s campaign in the US to mobilize support for its decision to hold the independence vote, scheduled for Sep. 25.
In New York on Friday, in a press conference hosted by the UN Correspondents Association, the KRG Representative briefed reporters there. That was the first time a KRG official gave a press briefing at the UN.
In Monday’s briefing, Abdul Rahman first explained basic points about the referendum, like who will participate.
The referendum will only be for the people of the Kurdistan Region and not for Kurds of other countries.
The voting will extend to the disputed territories—as defined by Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution.
Regarding Iraqi Kurds in the diaspora, the issue has yet to be finalized, but it is hoped they will be able to vote as well.
The referendum will involve only one question. The exact wording remains to be determined, but it will be something like, “Do you want an independent Kurdistan?”
Consideration had been given to asking residents of the disputed territories a second question: whether they want to be part of Iraq or Kurdistan.
Abdul Rahman suggested the majority would probably opt to join an independent Kurdistan. Nonetheless, it was decided to limit the referendum to only the question of independence.
The Kurdish Representative noted there are 17 Kurdish political parties in the parliament and the KRG. All but two, Gorran and Komal, support holding the referendum.
She also mentioned the KRG would hold elections for a new president and parliament. The current President, Masoud Barzani, has announced he will not run for re-election.
Those elections will be held no later than Nov. 6. The Kurdistan Region’s Independent High Electoral and Referendum Commission will determine the precise date.
Asked why the referendum is being held now, Abdul Rahman noted this is a time of far-reaching change in the Middle East.
“Changes happened 100 years ago, and the Kurds were bystanders then,” she said. “We’re not going to be bystanders again.”
She explained that at first, following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, the Kurdish people and, especially, the Kurdish leadership, were optimistic about starting “a new chapter in Iraq.” That optimism peaked in 2005, with the drafting of a new Iraqi constitution.
However, as the years passed, “all of that began to unravel.”
Former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, whom the US helped remove as a condition for supporting Baghdad in its fight against the Islamic State (IS), was particularly abusive.
Strongly sectarian, and supported by Iran, Maliki regularly threatened the Kurds and initiated an economic boycott against them.
Relations under current Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi are much better, and “we support him,” Abdul Rahman said.
But, she also noted Baghdad was still not paying the Kurdistan Region its share of the federal budget.
At the same time, the Region has faced severe hardships. It has had to fight IS while hosting 1.8 million Syrian refugees and displaced persons from Iraq who have fled the insurgent group.
New abuses arise regularly. Some 35,000 Iraqi soldiers, wounded in the fight against IS, have been treated in Kurdistan’s hospitals. Yet, Baghdad recently cut the Kurdistan Region’s share of the federal medicine supply.
The KRG Representative asked the reporters gathered to hear about the referendum, “Why did they do that? Why do you cut off the medicine supply to part of your own country?”
Editing by Karzan Sulaivany