The Kurdish referendum will destabilize the region more

There’s a reason why Turkey, the United States, the United Nations and many western countries are against the Kurdish referendum that has been proposed on Kurdish independence. The answer is because it’s a bad idea that would cause chaos rather than peace and bring regional instability to the region, at a time when the world at large and the countries in the region are facing problems and tough choices with the situations in Syria as well as Iraq.

newspaperThere’s a reason why the US, Turkey and the UN, who don’t always agree on everything, agree on this matter. The reason is because you don’t want to mess with regional and structural balance in the region. It would erode peace in the region and bring security risks that have not been thought of yet. As Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told state television recently, “In Iraq a country, which has been through so many problems, a referendum on independence can make the situation even worse. God forbid, it could even bring it to civil war.” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson added, “ If this referendum is conducted, it is highly unlikely that there will be negotiations with Baghdad, and the above international offer of support for negotiations will be foreclosed.”

The September 25th referendum that is being pushed by KRG President Masoud Barzani would be non-binding and leave Iraq’s five million Kurds short of an independent state anyway. The vote could fracture the tenuous alliance of Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis in Iraq against the ISIS of Iraq and Syria. The Kurdish referendum holds the possibility of affecting the balance of leverage between Irbil, Baghdad and regional powers, as well as shaking up internal Kurdish politics.

By taking a look at the details of the referendum one can actually see that the voting for this referendum would not only take place within the borders of the Kurdistan region, but also within disputed territories that are now under de facto Kurdish control since their liberation from the ISIS. The referendum is not equivalent of a declaration of independence. Nor will it trigger any immediate change to the nature of Kurdish sovereignty in northern Iraq, as the vote has neither a legal framework to empower the referendum as a binding measure, nor support from the international community. Many world leaders have said that holding a referendum would distract from efforts to defeat ISIS and cause a turbulent situation in disputed areas that are particularly provocative and destabilizing in the region.

Baghdad and Ankara have been on the same page as well, as Turkish and Iraqi leaders expressed concerns that the vote is a danger to “the security of the region and the safety of its people,” and Iraq’s government “affirmed Turkey’s support for all the steps taken by the Iraqi government to preserve the unity of Iraq,” the statement from Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s office said.

Turkey is getting ready to take hard actions if the referendum is placed on September 25th. There is no exception to any groups in the region to change the demographic and geographic structure. Turkey will do what is necessary to take the appropriate actions.

It’s time that the Kurdish Regional Government listened to its neighbors and the international community and do what is right. The necessary action is to cancel the referendum vote in order to prevent bloodshed, a potential civil war and major destabilization of the region that can have catastrophic consequences.

Column by Ali Cinar, President, Turkish Heritage Organization

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