ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) – The United States has proposed an “alternative path” to the Kurdistan Region’s upcoming independence referendum, a senior US official, Brett McGurk, US Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter the Islamic State (IS), explained at the end of a visit in Erbil.
Since early 2017, Kurdish officials have repeatedly indicated they intended to hold a referendum on independence this year. In early June, they set a date for Sep. 25.
On Thursday, less than two weeks before the scheduled vote, McGurk publicly discussed the plan, although without providing any details.
He, along with Jan Kubis, the Special Representative of the Secretary General of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq, and the US and UK ambassadors to Iraq, all traveled earlier that day to Dohuk to meet with the President of the Kurdistan Region Masoud Barzani.
His subsequent remarks suggest the plan failed to address Kurdish concerns. “If the only aim is to postpone the referendum, the postponement will never happen,” President Barzani said in Zakho, after meeting with the group of diplomats.
During a press conference in Erbil following that meeting, McGurk affirmed the referendum was “ill-timed and ill-advised, it is not something we can support.”
McGurk’s opposition to the referendum is well-known, although this is the first time he publicly stated it so clearly in Erbil.
McGurk claimed the entire international coalition did not support the Kurdistan Region’s independence referendum, adding there was “no prospect for any sense of legitimacy,” seeming to disregard the democratic principle underlying a popular vote.
According to McGurk, President Barzani welcomed the “constructive discussions” in his meeting with the US officials and the UN and UK representatives.
However, President Barzani’s later comments indicate otherwise.
In McGurk’s view, the US proposal is “a path focused on a sustained process of negotiation [and] dialogue.”
He said the alternative path would ensure “serious efforts [were made] through negotiations to resolve many of the outstanding issues that are confronting the Region and the central government in Baghdad.”
McGurk also pointed to the “fruitful” meeting with President Barzani and other Kurdish leaders regarding dialogue between Erbil and Baghdad.
“We’re looking for alternative options that can be acceptable by all the parties,” he said, adding the US has worked with the leadership in Baghdad and Kurdistan to resolve disagreements.
Regarding the reconvening of the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) Parliament, McGurk stated the Parliament should be activated with participation from all political parties in the Region.
“When the Parliament does come back, we hope it can be an environment in which the parties begin to work together and resolve many of the important issues confronting the Kurdistan Region,” he said.
The leading political parties in the Region have agreed to hold the first session of the reconvened Parliament on Friday.
On the battle against IS and the security of Kirkuk and surrounding areas, McGurk emphasized the importance of the liberation of Hawija, west of Mosul.
He said there was strong cooperation between Kurdish Peshmerga and Iraqi forces leading up to the Hawija campaign.
Although a timeline for the offensive has not been announced yet, Iraqi and Kurdish forces have begun preparations to advance against the extremist group.
(Laurie Mylroie contributed to this report)