Originally published in the Greek weekly newspaper “Paraskinio”, issue 596, p. 40, on Sept. 16, 2017
It is certain that the move by Iraqi Kurdistan to hold a referendum on 25th of September to break away from the central government of Baghdad will be a warning bell. Its effects will not be confined within the Iraqi borders. They will inevitably affect the entire Middle East region and their impact will be more serious for Turkey, Iran and Syria.
The referendum was the main reason for a series of diplomatic movements in the region and globally. The recent visit by the US Secretary of Defense, which included Iraq and Turkey, was the Kurdish issue. The Iraqi side has warned that the referendum will catalytically damage the wider region. During his presence in Baghdad, Jim Mattis secretly met with Kurdish officials and asked the Kurdish side to wait for more time. However, the Kurdish response to the referendum was rigid.
In Ankara, the tension in the atmosphere was much higher. The Turkish side of course knows that if the Kurdish separatist domino starts from Iraq, it will not stop there and Turkey is the next one to face a threat because of the enormous Kurdish presence in its southeast. The US side, during this visit, tried to reduce the importance of the referendum, request calm and ask for more time to try to influence the Kurdish side in Iraq.
In recent days, Iraqi Kurdish leader Barazani has secretly visited Israel, one of the countries in the region that generally supports the Kurds and the creation of a Kurdish state in particular. A very well-informed source pointed out to me that Barazani met with the Israeli Prime Minister, who in turn gave his full support to the Kurdish step, stressing the support of a number of Arab states in the Gulf, which they believe will directly affect the stability of Iran in the near future.
Meanwhile, the Kurdistan regional administration included the Iraqi city of Kirkuk in the referendum. This is a direct threat to the central authority in Baghdad, which responded through its representatives, such as one of Al-Hashd al-Sha’abi militia militants, named Abu Azrael, who confirmed that Baghdad and his team would never accept the annexation of Kirkuk to Kurdistan. He also said there was a high probability of military intervention in the city to avoid its attachment. This is but a message of Iran towards the Kurds.
Kirkuk, inhabited by Arabs and Turkmen, is known for its important position in northern Iraq, since it is rich in high-grade oil, so it is of great importance to Baghdad’s central government and Iraqi Kurdistan. The Kurdish region will suffer financially if it is separated from Baghdad due to the impossibility of imports and exports, since the imposition of financial sanctions and its financial exclusion from the surrounding countries after the referendum are taken for granted. So Kirkuk and its oil are the only solution. In a statement, Barazani said a few days ago that Kirkuk is for the region as the heart for a human.
Both Iran and Turkey are well aware that blocking the referendum is not possible at this time, and that the majority needed for its success exists. The next step for these countries is to prevent its effects by opening an internal Iraqi conflict between the central government of Baghdad and Iraqi Kurdistan on the city of Kirkuk. In my opinion, a Kurdish-Iraqi conflict is a matter of time. Days after the referendum will mark the start of a new war in the region.