Excerpts: ... in the Middle East, one of the region’s most protracted conflicts has been brought to the fore: the Kurdish question.
Earlier this month, Masoud Barzani, the president of the Iraqi Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), announced plans to hold a referendum on independence for the northern Kurdistan region.
While a “Yes” vote, which is widely expected to be the result, would not lead to an automatic declaration of independence, it would to give Iraqi Kurds, who make up about 20 percent of the population, more leverage in talks on self-determination with the central government. . .
“No party can, on its own, decide the fate of Iraq, in isolation from the other parties,” Saad al-Haddithi, Iraqi government spokesman, said earlier this month in a statement.
“Iraq is constitutionally a democratic, federal country with full sovereignty...Any measure from any side in Iraq should be based on the constitution.”
Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi said in April that while he respected the Kurdish right to vote on independence, he did not think the timing was right for the move.
The vote, set for September 25, will take place in the three governorates that make up the autonomous Kurdish region (Erbil, Dohok, and Suleimaniah), as well as other disputed areas that are claimed by both Kurdish Iraq and Baghdad: Makhmour in the north, Sinjar in the northwest and Khanaqin in the east, and most importantly, the oil-rich province of Kirkuk....
Iraqi Kurds had previously accused Baghdad of manipulating the demographic makeup of the city (Kirkuk) by forcefully pushing Kurds out and settling in Arab families in their place as part of the “Arabisation” policies of Saddam Hussein. . . .
The dispute over the Kirkuk province, aside from the Kurds’ claim to the land, is further hindered by a constitutional ambiguity. . . . Aided by this legal loophole, the KRG has invited a number of international oil companies (IOCs) to develop its untapped resources and has kept all the revenue for itself, drawing the ire of the central government.
Kurdish Peshmerga forces have been key in reversing gains made by the Islamic State of Iran and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) since it swept across the country in 2014. In doing so, the US-backed Kurdish forces have steadily expanded KRG-controlled territory, unilaterally expanding into “contested areas”, many of which were victim of Saddam Hussein’s “Arabisation” policies.
With the battle for Mosul nearing an end, the KRG will be in the position to use its control over vast new swaths of territory in its negotiations with Baghdad.
Further complicating matters is the KRG’s rivalry with the Sinjar Resistance Units (YBS), a Yazidi armed group affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) that has been waging a bloody battle for greater autonomy in Turkey since 1984.
The Peshmerga forces – Ankara’s main allies in Iraq - have repeatedly clashed with the YBS, who in turn have warned the KRG of attempting to assert its control in Sinjar, another disputed area.
And as PMU units push further into Sinjar in an effort to clear ISIL from the Iraq-Syria border as part of the ongoing efforts to take Mosul, their collaboration with PKK-allied YBS fighters have prompted fears of Turkish military intervention.
Following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in early 20th century, the Kurds, a distinct people with their own language and culture, found themselves scattered across four regions: Southeastern Turkey, parts of Iran, northeastern Syria and northern Iraq – areas they regarded as their ancestral homeland ever since. (See original article for map showing Kurdish areas in those countries)
Alarmed by their aspirations for cultural and political autonomy, and in some cases, pursuits for independence, the successive governments of Turkey, Iran, Syria and Iraq have systematically subjugated their Kurdish populations through decades of assimilation, repression and containment policies. . . .
Related: From The Washington Post, 6-21-17 -- The Kurdish region of Iraq is going to vote on independence. Here’s what you need to know.