Erbil, Asharq Al-Awsat—The president of Iraq’s Kurdistan Region, Massoud Barzani, has announced that a referendum on the region’s independence will be held within the coming months, pointing out that he is currently in talks with the Kurdistan Parliament to set a date for the proposed referendum.
President Barzani will visit the region’s parliament on Thursday to discuss the issue of independence, the spokesman for the majority Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) told Asharq Al-Awsat.
In an interview with the BBC, Barzani said: “Everything that’s happened recently shows that it’s the right of Kurdistan to achieve independence.”
“From now on, we won’t hide that that’s our goal. Iraq is effectively partitioned now,” he added.
Barzani’s comments come at a time when large swaths of northern and western Iraq have come under the control of Sunni rebels led by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). On Sunday, the Al-Qaeda breakaway group declared an Islamic caliphate in the territories it has seized in Iraq and neighboring Syria.
In the past month, Kurdish Peshmerga fighters have moved into previously disputed areas that have been abandoned by Iraqi security forces in the face of ISIS’s advance, such as the oil-rich region of Kirkuk, which the Kurds have long claimed is part of their territory.
“Are we supposed to stay in this tragic situation the country’s living?” Barzani continued, pointing out that the issue of independence rests in the hands of the Kurdistani people. “It’s not me who will decide on independence. It’s the people. We’ll hold a referendum and it’s a matter of months.”
Defending the referendum, Barzani told the BBC that while the Kurds would play a role in a political solution to the crisis caused by the jihadist-led Sunni Arab rebellion, independence was their right.
Although the president of the Kurdistan Region emphasized that an independent Kurdistan would not “pose a threat to anyone,” some countries, such as Turkey and Iran, may oppose such a move.
A Turkish official whose name was withheld told Reuters news agency on Monday that “Turkey’s stance is to support the integrity of the Iraqi territory and its political unity. That is all.”
“We do not support any independence that would undermine this unity. Nothing like this can be discussed,” the unnamed official said. “Ankara supports the calls for the formation of a consensus or unity government that represents the interests of all Iraqis.”
But Mohammed Ali Yassin, a spokesman for the KDP, told Asharq Al-Awsat he expected Turkey and other countries to welcome the decision regarding Kurdistan’s independence.
“The right to self-determination has been given to all peoples of the world, and the Kurds have this right,” Yassin said. “Even if Turkey or Iran did not support this declaration, so what can they do?”
Meanwhile, the Relations Committee at the Kurdistan Parliament has defended the proposed referendum.
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, Committee member Farhan Jawhar said: “We in the Kurdistan Region do not wait for orders from any country in the world, be it Turkey or others, to declare [our] self-determination. This decision rests only with the Kurdish people, the parliament of the province, and its president. They are the ones who will decide the future of the Kurdistan Region, and no-one else.”
Meanwhile, Hawkar Jatto, a Kurdish political analyst said all the relevant steps being taken by Barzani to ensure a referendum were entirely legal.
“This issue involves two sides: one is the extent of international recognition, and the other is related to the domestic conditions in the country where the referendum is being held, in addition to conducting this referendum under international observation,” Jatto said.
“[But] these two aspects pose two challenges to the president of the [Kurdistan] Region,” he added. “On the internal front, he has to convince the Iraqi parties of this move peacefully, and, externally, the proposal must be accepted internationally.”