Kurdish leaders explain independence referendum in Washington
WASHINGTON DC, United States (Kurdistan 24) – Senior Kurdish figures, including Chancellor of the Kurdistan Region Security Council, Masrour Barzani, and Governor of Kirkuk, Najmaldin Karim, addressed a Capitol Hill symposium on the forthcoming referendum on Kurdish independence.
Friday’s event was sponsored jointly by Kurdistan24 and The Washington Times.
Barzani stressed the Kurds’ determination to hold the referendum, despite the objections of several countries, including the US, that this was not the right time for it.
“We cannot stand by and let others decide for us,” Barzani affirmed, asking, “When is the right time?” After 2003, when Peshmerga fought alongside US troops to overthrow Saddam Hussein’s regime, the Kurdistan Regional Government(KRG) was told this was not the right time.
When the Islamic State (IS) invaded Iraq eleven years later, we were again told this was not the right time, he said, because “it is a time of war.”
Now that IS is on the verge of collapse, “it’s not the right time” again. “It’s never the right time,” Barzani affirmed, “unless we make it the right time.”
Independence is necessary for the Kurdish people, he explained. For decades, Kurds suffered at the hands of Baghdad, culminating in Saddam’s use of chemical weapons against them. Yet the international community did little then, because that was regarded as an “internal matter.”
However, when Saddam invaded another state—Kuwait—the US mobilized an international coalition to expel him from that country.
It was the failure of the Iraqi government that led to the KRG’s drive for independence, Barzani explained. The Kurds are not seeking succession, but were “pushed” by Baghdad to seek “a brighter future” for our people.
He recounted the collapse of the Iraqi army, as IS attacked in 2014. The US spent 10 years building the army, spending billions of dollars in the process. But it collapsed within days, because of “corrupt and incompetent leaders.”
Repeatedly, Barzani stressed the KRG’s intent to resolve its differences with Baghdad through peaceful negotiations. The referendum will provide a “mandate” for those discussions.
The referendum will be held in the “disputed areas,” as identified by Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution. The people in those areas were supposed to vote by 2007 on whether they wanted to join the Kurdistan Region or not, but that vote was never held.
The KRG will give them what Baghdad denied them: “the right to determine their future,” Barzani explained. That includes the Christian communities of the Nineveh Plain.
Kirkuk Province includes a significant part of the disputed areas, and Najmaldin Karim, Kirkuk’s governor made similar points.
Karim affirmed that the people of Kurdistan are united in support of the referendum. “Every political party” has expressed its agreement on the holding the vote, while differences are really “about issues that are not fundamentally related.”
He repeated that Baghdad had failed to implement Article 140, as it was obliged to do.
All Iraqi politicians and leaders have said that the fate of the disputed territories should be decided by the people there, Karim said.
Last month, Kirkuk’s governing council voted “overwhelmingly” to ask the Iraqi government to hold a referendum on the fate of Kirkuk: whether to join the Kurdistan Region or not. Baghdad replied that it was “not ready” for that step, Karim explained.
Asked what he thought the results of such a referendum would be, Karim replied that he thought the disputed areas would favor joining the Kurdistan Region.
That would certainly explain why the Iraqi government would decline to hold such a vote.