Will Kurdistan referendum achieve its objective in disputed territories? 

August 1, 2017 at 7:41 pm

The whole of Kirkuk province is considered disputed between Baghdad and Erbil (Kirkuknow, July 2017)

Shorsh Khalid

Masoud Barzani alongside several representatives of other political parties announced on 7th of June that a referendum for independence will be held on 25th of September in the three provinces in the Kurdistan region and the disputed territories. The Change Movement (Change) and Kurdistan Islamic Group (KIG) which together have 30 seats in the currently defunct Kurdish parliament did not participate in the meeting in which the announcement for referendum was made.

But how successful the referendum will be in the disputed territories?

Security concerns 

Referendum can not be held in several disputed areas as they are still under Islamic State control including Hawijah district which includes subdistricts such as Zaab, Rashad and Abasi which together form 32% of the Kirkuk province. Other disputed areas such as Sinjar district are not safe and there is rivalry between Peshmerga and other forces such as Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) and the Kurdistan Workers Party ( PKK) in these areas.

Baghdad which opposes referendum is in control of other disputed areas in particular in Diyala province such as Sadiya, Mandali, Badra, Jasan and several other areas in Nineveh province.

The residents of some of these areas such as Jalawla, Sadiy, Sleman Beg, Sinjar and etc that have been retaken by the security forces have not been able to return to their areas and they still live in IDP camps.

Internal obstacles 

Apart from the Kurdish parties no other ethnic group supports the referendum in these disputed areas, this is considered a big obstacle for the referendum. Arabs and Turkmen in some disputed territories oppose referendum which goes against the objective of the process. The Turkmen PMF is in charge of security in some parts of Tuz Khormato and it is possible that this force will create hurdles on the day of referendum and prevents people from reaching the ballot boxes. Since mid 2014, the Kurds and Shia forces in Tuz Khormato have clashed on several occasions leading to some loss of life. The Kurdish officials who are in charge of the referendum have not made adequate efforts to create dialogue with the Arabs and Turkemn to relieve their concerns and to reach an understanding.

Kirkuk awaits referendum (photograph: Bnar Sardar, July 2017)

Kurdish obstacles 

The Change Movement and KIG positions are not in tune with other parties and they currently insist that the parliament should sit again before they can make a decision about the referendum. Patriotic Union of Kurdistan is of the same opinion about the reactivation of the parliament. In their latest meeting on July 30, the referendum committee headed by Barzani stated that the parliament will sit again within two weeks.

Will Kurdistan achieve its objective 

Kurdish officials insist that they will organise the referendum on the specified date and will not delay it. This is while they have not overcome the obstacles ahead of holding the referendum.

Second meeting of the referendum committee (photograph: Presidency’s website, 30 July 2017)

PUK received 209964 of the votes in Kirkuk which is almost half of the electorate in the province and the Turkmen have 71400 and Arab parties secured 92000 votes in the 2014 parliamentary election. Therefore if the PUK does not back referendum, it will not receive enough votes. Hoshyar Swaili the head of the KDP foreign relations told Peregraf that Iraq will prevent holding referendum in the areas that are under its control. However he argued that in districts where there are five sub districts if four vote for referendum, then enough votes will be obtained. Latif Fatih Faraj who writes about the disputed territories believs that if referendum is held in provinces, then it would be difficult for the Kurds to obtain the consent of the Iraqi high electroal commissions. But even if this hurdle is overcome, then the Kurds will lose the Khanaqin  and other areas in Diyala province, Tuz Khormato in Tikrit and the same goes with the Nineveh Plains.

The Kurds decided on July 30, to send a delgation to Baghdad to overcome some of these obstacles through dialogue. It is not clear how successful they will be.

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