Harvey Morris has worked in the Middle East, including Iran and Lebanon, for many years and written several books on the region, including No Friends but the Mountains published in 1993.

  • KRG could be using referendum to squeeze concessions from Baghdad, On: Sun, 10 Sep 2017

  • In tactical shift, US announces intent to ‘annihilate’ ISIS , On: Sun, 18 Jun 2017

  • Trump unlikely to find much Turkish delight in talks with Erdogan, On: Sun, 14 May 2017

  • Russia’s deal with US-backed Kurds strands Turkey, On: Sun, 30 Apr 2017

  • Terror at home affects West’s view of Middle East, On: Sun, 09 Apr 2017

  • Abadi’s real problem with Trump: Looking beyond Mosul , On: Sun, 19 Mar 2017

  • Saving Nineveh and Nimrud from ISIS, On: Sun, 12 Mar 2017

  • Time bomb of unemployment among Arab youth, On: Sun, 26 Feb 2017

  • For Kurds, Trump’s ban is a slap in the face , On: Sun, 19 Feb 2017

  • As Trump eyes Iraq’s oil, Abadi struggles to pay the bills, On: Sun, 05 Feb 2017

  • Russia elbows US aside in Middle East, On: Sun, 15 Jan 2017

  • Syria’s long-shunned Kurds are on their own again , On: Sun, 15 Jan 2017

  • Trump and Iran: A game of poker or chess?, On: Sun, 25 Dec 2016

  • Syria’s helpless civilians get no cover from veto-plagued UN , On: Sun, 18 Dec 2016

  • Iraq’s woes deepen as Kurds, Turkey vie for land , On: Sun, 11 Dec 2016

  • Turkey asserts itself in Iraq and Syria, On: Sun, 27 Nov 2016

  • Iraq braces for ‘post-Mosul syndrome’ , On: Sun, 06 Nov 2016

  • Maliki-Barzani feud in Iraq is music to ISIS ears , On: Sun, 06 Nov 2016

  • Even when Mosul falls, ISIS will stay a threat , On: Sun, 23 Oct 2016

  • Front-line reporting in Syria can be as perplexing as the war, On: Sun, 16 Oct 2016

  • As ISIS lashes out, beware of the knee-jerk response, On: Sun, 11 Sep 2016

  • Euphrates Shield and the complexities of fighting the Kurds , On: Sun, 04 Sep 2016

  • Focus on Assad shifting since Russian intervention , On: Sun, 21 Aug 2016

  • Soleimani’s return to lead Mosul push causes friction , On: Sun, 21 Aug 2016

  • Iraq’s Kurds and Iran mull strategic oil pipeline, On: Sun, 14 Aug 2016

  • ISIS faces losing its ‘heaven on Earth’ — then what?, On: Sun, 26 Jun 2016

  • Soleimani, symbol of Iran’s power, infuriates Iraqis , On: Sun, 12 Jun 2016

  • On self-rule, Kurds find themselves out in the cold again , On: Sun, 29 May 2016

  • US seeks to speed up Iraqi push on Mosul , On: Sun, 08 May 2016

  • Abadi faces deadlock, threat of further turmoil , On: Sun, 24 Apr 2016

  • Iran finds no choice but to live with Abadi, lower profile, On: Sun, 17 Apr 2016

  • Abadi faces an insidious foe: Corruption , On: Fri, 25 Mar 2016

  • With turmoil in Iraq, some yearn for Ba’athist stability , On: Fri, 18 Mar 2016

  • In war-torn Iraq, breaking up is hard to do , On: Fri, 04 Mar 2016

  • Saudi offer of troops in Syria may not be so ‘irreversible’ , On: Fri, 26 Feb 2016

  • In Iraq, low oil prices are bigger threat than ISIS , On: Fri, 12 Feb 2016

  • As before, Kurds find themselves on the outside , On: Fri, 05 Feb 2016

  • After Ramadi, obstacles remain in war against ISIS , On: Fri, 29 Jan 2016

  • Iraq threatened by partition , On: Fri, 22 Jan 2016

  • KRG could be using referendum to squeeze concessions from Baghdad

    Some in Kurdistan are betting that outside pressure is building to ensure the vote will not take place.


    2017/09/10 Issue: 122 Page: 9



    As the official cam­paign for Kurdis­tan’s independence referendum opened September 5, foreign diplomats and Iraqi officials headed to Erbil in a final attempt to persuade the leader­ship of the autonomous region to call off the vote.

    More than 5 million people are eligible to vote in the September 25 referendum, including those who live within the recognised boundaries of the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), those in territory disputed with the government in Baghdad and diaspora Kurds.

    Kurdistan’s close international allies and near neighbours have been united in their calls for the KRG to suspend the vote, fearing that the outcome would further destabilise the region so soon af­ter Baghdad declared victory over the Islamic State (ISIS).

    The outcome, if the referendum goes ahead, appears to be a fore­gone conclusion. In an informal poll in 2005 alongside parliamen­tary elections, 98.9% voted in favour of independence.

    A belief in the justice of having an independent state is nearly universal among the Kurds, who believe that their aspirations towards independence were thwarted in the carve-up of the Ottoman Empire after the first world war.

    This time, however, dissident voices within the KRG are ques­tioning whether the time or the circumstances are right for a vote to go it alone.

    The date for the referendum was announced in June by Masoud Barzani, president of the KRG and head of the dominant Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). The initiative has somewhat less-than-wholehearted support from the KDP’s historic rival, Jalal Tala­bani’s Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).

    The Gorran Movement, which beat the PUK to second place in parliamentary elections in 2014, wants the referendum postponed, as does the small Kurdistan Islam­ic Group. Gorran argues that only the KRG parliament has the right to call an independence vote but the chamber has been suspended since 2015 in a dispute between itself and the KDP.

    Because of these political rifts, enthusiasm for the independ­ence vote is more evident in KDP strongholds such as Erbil and Do­huk than in eastern regions where other parties hold sway.

    A “No for Now” movement has been launched, led by Shaswar Abdulwahid, a Kurdish business­man and owner of Kurdistan’s Nalia Radio and Television. The subsequent protest resignations of some of the network’s top present­ers underlined divisions over the referendum issue.

    A younger generation of Kurds appears less fixated on the issue of an early referendum than on tackling chronic problems that faced the region even before the KRG was forced to confront the ISIS invasion of 2014.

    Issues of mismanagement, cor­ruption and public sector pay have been exacerbated by the battle with Baghdad over the rights to Kurdistan’s oil.

    To put its books in order before the scheduled referendum, the KRG recently paid the first $1 billion tranche in settlement of a long-running dispute with the UAE’s Dana Gas.

    Sceptics suggest that, in eco­nomic terms, the KDP has little to boast of in recent years since the boom period that followed the 2003 Iraqi war. The kudos it would gain from sponsoring a success­ful referendum might, however, give it a boost in presidential and parliamentary elections that have been scheduled for November 1.

    One viable theory is that the KRG is using the likely “yes” vote to squeeze Baghdad into making concessions either before or after September 25 or to encourage Erbil’s allies to work to influence Baghdad.

    Hoshyar Zebari, a former Iraqi government minister and now a senior adviser to the KRG, has suggested a “yes” vote would strengthen the Kurdish position in negotiations with Baghdad rather than automatically lead to independence.

    One outstanding issue is the implementation of Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution, which was to have settled territorial disputes between Baghdad and Erbil by the end of 2007 by polling their inhab­itants. Barzani has cited non-im­plementation of the clause as one motive for calling the September referendum.

    However, talks between the two sides in both Baghdad and Erbil have failed to reach a break­through that might persuade the referendum’s political sponsors to cancel or postpone the vote.

    Those Kurds — almost certainly a minority — who intend to vote “no” to independence, at least for now, are putting their faith in outsiders to persuade the KRG to change its mind. The United States, European allies, Turkey and Iran have, to varying degrees and from various motivations, op­posed the referendum plan.

    Even at the 11th hour, some in Kurdistan are betting that enough outside pressure is building to ensure the much-heralded vote will not take place.

    Editors' Picks

    The Arab Weekly Newspaper reaches Western & Arabic audience that are influential as well as being affluent.

    From Europe to the Middle East,and North America, The Arab Weekly talks to opinion formers and influential figures, providing insight and comment on national, international and regional news through the focus of Arabic countries and community.

    Published by Al Arab Publishing House

    Publisher and Group Executive Editor: Haitham El-Zobaidi, PhD

    Editor-in-Chief: Oussama Romdhani

    Managing Editor: Iman Zayat

    Deputy Managing Editor and Online Editor: Mamoon Alabbasi

    Senior Editor: John Hendel

    Chief Copy Editor: Richard Pretorius

    Copy Editor: Stephen Quillen

    Analysis Section Editor: Ed Blanche

    East/West Section Editor: Mark Habeeb

    Gulf Section Editor: Mohammed Alkhereiji

    Society and Travel Sections Editor: Samar Kadi

    Syria and Lebanon Sections Editor: Simon Speakman Cordall

    Contributing Editor: Rashmee Roshan Lall

    Senior Correspondents: Mahmud el-Shafey (London) & Lamine Ghanmi (Tunis)

    Regular Columnists

    Claude Salhani

    Yavuz Baydar

    Correspondents

    Saad Guerraoui (Casablanca)

    Dunia El-Zobaidi (London)

    Roua Khlifi (Tunis)

    Thomas Seibert (Washington)

    Chief Designer: Marwen Hmedi

    Designers

    Ibrahim Ben Bechir

    Hanen Jebali

    Published by Al Arab Publishing House

    Contact editor at:editor@thearabweekly.com

    Subscription & Advertising: Ads@alarab.co.uk

    Tel 020 3667 7249

    Mohamed Al Mufti

    Marketing & Advertising Manager

    Tel (Main) +44 20 6702 3999

    Direct: +44 20 8742 9262

    www.alarab.co.uk

    Al Arab Publishing House

    Kensington Centre

    177-179 Hammersmith Road

    London W6 8BS , UK

    Tel: (+44) 20 7602 3999

    Fax: (+44) 20 7602 8778

    Follow Us
    © The Arab Weekly, All rights reserved