Iraqi Kurds check for their names outside a polling center in Irbil, Sept. 25, 2017. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)
Kurds in Northern Iraq today voted in a non-binding referendum on declaring an independent Kurdish state; polls have closed after being held open in most areas for an extra hour. The referendum is expected to pass; Kurdish Regional Government leaders hope the affirmative vote will give them leverage in negotiations over secession.
Reaction in the region has been… mixed.
Baghdad is bellicose:
Baghdad (AFP) – Iraq’s parliament demanded Monday that troops be sent to disputed areas in the north controlled by the Kurds since 2003 as the autonomous Kurdish area staged a referendum on independence.
“Parliament demands that the head of the army (Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi) deploy forces in all of the zones the autonomous region of Kurdistan has taken control of since 2003,” a resolution said.
Under Iraq’s constitution, the government is obliged to comply with the parliamentary vote.
Asked about the risks of armed conflict, Abadi’s spokesman Saad al-Hadithi told AFP: “If there are clashes in these zones, it will be the job of federal forces to apply the law.”
Tehran is ticked:
Iran has shut its border with Iraqi Kurdistan in response to its independence referendum, the foreign ministry said on Monday.
“At the request of the Iraqi government, we have closed our land and air borders” with Iraqi Kurdistan, foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi said at a press conference.
The referendum is “illegal and illegitimate,” he added.
Iran had already announced on Sunday that it was stopping all flights to and from Iraqi Kurdistan in response to the vote.
Istanbul is apoplectic:
HABUR, Turkey (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan warned on Monday Turkey could cut off the pipeline that carries oil from northern Iraq to the outside world, intensifying pressure on the Kurdish autonomous region over its independence referendum.
Erdogan spoke shortly after Prime Minister Binali Yildirum said Ankara could take punitive measures involving borders and air space against the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) over the referendum and would not recognize the outcome.
Damascus is dour:
BEIRUT (Reuters) – The Syrian government rejects the independence referendum organized by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq, Syria’s foreign minister has said.
Voting started on Monday in northern Iraq despite intense international and regional pressure to call the vote off.
“We in Syria only recognize a united Iraq and reject any procedure that leads to the fragmentation of Iraq,” Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem was cited as saying by Syrian state news agency SANA.
“This step is rejected and we do not recognize it and yesterday I informed the Iraqi foreign minister of this stance.”
But Jerusalem is jolly:
A demonstration in support of Kurdish independence in Jerusalem yesterday. Israel has been the only vocal supporter of today’s referendum pic.twitter.com/T5UDykUMX7
— Loveday Morris (@LovedayM) September 25, 2017
The Israelis view the Kurds as a potential ally and bulwark against extremism. They’re onto something. The reactions in the region make abundantly clear how fraught the present moment is; I discussed the complicated issues involved with Henry Jackson Society research fellow Kyle Orton last week, and you can watch on YouTube or listen on iTunes or Google Play. But wherever possible, US policy should be oriented toward shoring up the health of Kurds’ fledgling state. As Eli Lake at Bloomberg News and Sohrab Ahmari at Commentary have eloquently argued, they’ve earned it.