On Sept. 25, the region woke up on a decisive moment with 92.7 percent of Kurdish people voting for independence from Iraq. Then events accelerated and the Iraqi government announced, in coordination with Ankara and Tehran, its willingness to restore control over four cross-borders (two with Turkey and two with Iran) and to impose an air-embargo on flights from and to Iraqi Kurdistan with scenarios of likely armed conflicts in disputed regions especially the oil-rich Kirkuk.
Two days before the referendum, the Iraqi Army advanced to launch an offensive on ISIS strongholds in Hawija – the scene foresees a spark of military confrontation that would break out anytime.
True that the local government in Kurdistan confronted the international community with its insistence to carry out the referendum, but the tension in Iraq and the region wasn’t caused only by it. Announcing the referendum is not something new, its date has been previously set and the Kurds reiterated several times their determination to separate from Iraq.
Kurds attribute this demand to years of abuse that have made them realize that it is time to establish their own state. Where was this international rejection before? (Especially that of the US, European Union, Turkey and Iran) Back then, none of them attempted to reform ties between Kurds and the central state, especially that Kurdistan government has been accusing the central government in Baghdad for years of depriving the Kurds from fair shares in power and resources.
Despite all that, the dispute was neglected and this pushed Kurds to insist on the referendum, whose outcome came as expected. This gives Iraqi Kurdistan a strong card to use in upcoming negotiations with the central government on natural resources as well as reinforcement of its political position as a self-ruled region.
The severe escalation by the Iraqi central government, Iran and Turkey with the unprecedented siege and threats of starving the Kurds, disregard the fact that Kurds announced earlier that the referendum is not an announcement of independence — it only acknowledges the necessity to move to the next step and to negotiate with Iraq and neighboring states in addition to the international community the conditions of separation, if it happened.
Confederation with enhanced conditions and possibly a new version of the current self-ruling which means that Kurds moved on with the referendum after they lost hope in any of the main powers to understand the situation. They moved on with a referendum that enhances their condition and urges European countries to focus on reforming ties between Kurds and the central government.
It should be mentioned that it is difficult for Kurdistan dream of independence to become true amidst this regional and international rejection. Geographically, the anticipated Kurdish state has no navy border and is surrounded by states that reject its independence.
Economically, Kurdistan government economy depends on oil transported via pipes that pass through Turkey or is exported via the central government. Iraqi Kurdistan exports around 550,000 bpd – out of daily produced 600,000 bpd – via a pipe in Turkish Jihan’s Port overseeing the Mediterranean Sea. All these basic-income sources would be hindered if the tension remains. How would Erbil establish a state without the ability to export its oil?
With the referendum card in its hand, the government of Kurdistan has a strong negotiation card that permits it to move on with a confederation that maintains its status, doesn’t marginalize its people -as it is the case now- and ensures that Iraq remains united as everyone wishes.
This would contribute to finding solutions for pending topics, including the disputed regions between Erbil and Baghdad based on the Iraqi constitution and providing joint market and currency as Kurdistan maintains its independent cultural, economic, political and foreign policies.