Iraqi Kurdistan Prepares for a Vote That Will Shake Nations

Iraqi Kurdistan Prepares for a Vote That Will Shake Nations from Strafor via Financial Sense

In less than a week, the largest nation in the world without a state of its own — the Kurds — may finally hold a vote on whether to declare one. The approaching independence referendum, which Iraqi Kurdistan has planned for Sept. 25, marks the culmination of a long-running battle between the Kurdish government in Arbil and the central government in Baghdad. Thanks to the former’s disarray and the latter’s international backing, the vote seems doomed to fail in producing a distinct territory that the Kurds may call home. However, it could set Iraqi Kurdistan on a path toward greater autonomy, shaking the region from its stagnation and threatening further instability in the volatile Middle East.

A Cause That Unites and Divides

Though a familiar (and often futile) refrain throughout Iraq’s history, calls for Kurdish independence have recently reached a crescendo. To most Iraqi Kurds, the referendum is a legitimate attempt to increase their autonomy from a central government that they believe to be unresponsive to their needs. Moreover, many within the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) believe that the promise of a vote — whether or not it is actually held — will help solve the troubled region’s financial and political woes by giving Arbil leverage over Baghdad in the governments’ negotiations over budget battles, the distribution of oil revenue and the status of disputed territories.

The rest of Iraq views the vote differently. Baghdad, along with citizens in the country’s central and southern regions, has cast the plebiscite as a controversial and unconstitutional effort to destroy Iraq’s territorial integrity and rob it of coveted land on the nation’s fringes. The central government also worries about the precedent a Kurdish referendum might set for other regions of Iraq that have flirted with the idea of seeking more autonomy.

As history has shown, though, translating the referendum’s likely “yes” result into action won’t be easy. After a vote in favor of independence in 2005, Kurdish officials were thwarted in its implementation by a process rife with political and legal barriers. Many of those obstacles persist today, including infighting among Kurdish parties. Though many of Iraqi Kurdistan’s factions support the plebiscite that the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) has championed, they disagree with the ruling party’s motives. After all, the KDP hopes to use the vote as a mandate to keep Kurdish President Massoud Barzani or his son in power, maintaining its control over the KRG’s economy in the process.

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