As votes continue to be tallied from the Iraqi Kurdish referendum election held on Monday, major powers in the region and around the world brace for the almost certain reality of a “yes” vote for Kurdistan independence.
The Iraqi government has firmly said they will not negotiate with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) over talks over secession, while Turkey has threatened sanctions and flirted with the idea of using military force, staging tanks in a show of force along Turkey’s border with Kurdistan. Neighboring Iran, with its own sizable Kurdish population, has halted flights to Kurdistan and threatened sanctions as well.
Even the United States, loathe to destabilize an already fragmented region, is siding with Turkey and Iran on the subject, firmly objecting to an independent Kurdistan in Iraq. For now, at least.
The United States may soon find itself in an uncomfortable position with regard to the Kurds. After all, siding with the regimes in Iran and Turkey against the concept of self-determination for a group of persecuted people does not fit well with America’s traditional talking points about democracy around the world.
Particularly since the U.S. has relied heavily on Kurdish militias in the fight against the Islamic State, while the Iraqi government had significant setbacks. There may be an expectation of continued support on their behalf.
But when the “yes” vote is officially announced this week, what will it even mean for an independent Kurdistan in Iraq? “We are not ready to discuss or have a dialogue about the results of the referendum because it is unconstitutional,” said Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi Monday night. White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders reiterated U.S. policy when asked about the referendum with “We hope for a unified Iraq to annihilate ISIS, and certainly a unified Iraq to push back on Iran.” At this point, it may just be a matter of time.
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