By Mariah McCloskey
Approximately 70 percent of eligible voters showed up to cast a 92 percent vote in favor of independence for Iraqi Kurdistan on 25 September 2017, and the effects of the referendum are already felt worldwide, reports the Guardian.
The vote was held across the semi-autonomous region and disputed territories, including the oil-rich, ethnically- mixed of Kirkuk, a flashpoint city claimed by both Iraqi Kurdistan and the central government.
The government in Baghdad is sectarian and dominated by Iran, in the eyes of some. “Sunnis Kurds and Shiite nationalists in Iraq will tell you that the current Iraqi government is not a government for everyone,” Michael Pregent, an Iraq expert at the Hudson Institute, said.
The referendum succeeded in showing that the Kurds, not just in Iraq, but in Turkey, Iran, and Syria, still yearn for their own state. The Kurdish people’s ‘age-old yearning for unconstrained self-rule’ is unceasing and has been for years. The Kurds feel they have an inalienable right to determine their future path, free from interference by foreign powers, and the recent vote proved that.
The Kurds had to fight through much more than just yearning to have the opportunity to vote on this referendum.
According to Al Jazeera, Iran halted flights to two airports in the Kurdish region, Erbil and Sulaymaniyah, at the request of the central government in Baghdad a day before a Kurdish independence referendum. This only after Iran started military exercises at the Kurdish border.
“The closure of the Kurdistan Region airports is a collective punishment and blockade against the entire population of Kurdistan,” read a statement released Friday by Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) spokesman Safeen Dizayee.
Iran has ordered a fuel embargo on the Iraqi Kurdistan region, according to Iranian state news agency IRNA. The ban, announced September 25, stops international shipping companies and drivers from loading and shipping fuel products from or to the Iraqi Kurdistan area until further notice.
Iraq’s government has said that all measures to isolate the Kurdish region would be temporary and reversed if the Kurds annulled the results of the vote, which Iraq’s Supreme Court deemed unconstitutional.
A report by Mehr News stated that a Spokesperson for Iran’s Supreme National Security Council said the Kurdish Regional Government’s “hasty decisions” to go ahead with the referendum would bring the security of the Kurdish people, Iraq and the region “under serious threat”.
Despite reporting that the referendum would be non-binding, the semiautonomous KRG characterized it as binding. The goal is for the start of state building and negotiations with Iraq over an immediate break off.
Unfortunately, this “hasty decision” has led to, Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and the US stating that they will not recognize Kurdistan’s independence. “The vote and the results lack legitimacy and we continue to support a united, federal, democratic and prosperous Iraq,” US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson said in a statement.
Kurdish officials have called the measures illegal and have pleaded for international support in confronting threats from Baghdad, Tehran and Ankara. But Tillerson’s sharp statement indicated that the United States, despite its strong alliance with the Kurds, would not offer any.
Ryan Crocker, former ambassador to Iraq, John Bolton, former ambassador to the UN, Senate Minority Leader, Chuck Schumer, and Middle East experts in Washington, are all calling on the Trump administration to respect the results of last week’s Kurdistan Independence Referendum.
Although it is not fully recognized as an independent state, it shows that no matter how long it takes, independence for the Kurdish people is possible.