ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) – Senior Kurdish officials, as well as distinguished international experts, did not shy away from giving their honest view of the geopolitical situation in Iraq and Kurdistan as they addressed a Capitol Hill symposium on the upcoming referendum on Kurdish independence on Friday.
Speaking in Washington, Masrour Barzani, Chancellor of the Kurdistan Region’s Security Council, expressed the frustrations and determination of Kurds regarding independence for the Region.
“We cannot stand by and let others decide for us,” Barzani affirmed. Responding to several countries’ objections, including the US, regarding the timing of the referendum on Kurdish independence scheduled for Sept. 25, 2017, Barzani asked: “When is the right time?”
“It’s never the right time,” he affirmed, “unless we make it the right time.”
Barzani maintained the Kurdish government would remain “committed to fighting terrorism regardless of the political relationship with Baghdad,” allaying US fears the referendum would distract from the fight against the Islamic State (IS).
Others on the panel reiterated that many fears by those opposed to the referendum were baseless.
“The US is hesitant in supporting an independent Kurdistan due to the ‘short-sightedness’ of the US State Department,” declared former US general Jay Garner.
“Kurds actively tried to participate in the Iraqi government following the liberation of 2003,” Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Representative stated, indicating Erbil isn’t aiming to break relations with Baghdad altogether.
Despite the show of good faith by the Kurds, officials have complained that Baghdad treated Kurds like second-class citizens.
“Has Iraq really functioned or has it treated its people equally?” Asked Kirkuk Governor Najmaldin Karim.
“The Kurdistan Region enjoyed an improved situation, until the triple shocks of 2014: the economic crisis, the rise of [IS] and influx of refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), and the plummeting oil prices, all of which the KRG could not prevent,” Rahman said, a situation that was worsened by Iraq cutting Kurdistan’s budget share.
The need for sovereignty was underscored by the panelists, especially regarding security.
Kurdish Peshmerga forces were the initial frontline defense against the group when it emerged in 2014 despite the lack of adequate weapons and military support.
Peshmerga forces also continue to protect the diverse ethnoreligious province of Kirkuk, where all components are protected without discrimination against the threat of IS.
As such, panelists reaffirmed the existence of an independent Kurdish state would not pose a threat to its neighbors.
“Turkey and other countries should understand that the referendum for independence is not a threat,” said Ronald Griffith, former Vice Chief of Staff of the US Army.
“The region has been unstable for the past 100 years,” said former Ambassador and US Senator Peter Galbraith, a point many supported by reiterating that maintaining the “one-Iraq” policy was “delusional,” calling it “outdated” and a failure.
“It is impossible to imagine that Kurdish independence would make it worse,” he added.
“Kurds have demonstrated basic commitment to religious freedom. That’s laudable anywhere, especially in the middle east,” said US Congressman Trent Franks, something Iraqi member of Parliament Vian Dakhil echoed.
“We are hopeful that within an independent Kurdistan, rights of minorities, religious groups will be protected,” she said.
“When Iraq was created, it was supposed to be a country for us all,” Barzani remarked.
“It’s not us seeking secession, it is them [Iraq] that have pushed us to look for a brighter future for our people,” he concluded.
Editing by Karzan Sulaivany