IRBIL, Iraq – The Kurdish people are taking an enormous step to claim their own country in northern Iraq. A referendum vote to secede from the country and become an independent Kurdistan will take place on September 25.
But the Iraqi Supreme Court has ordered a halt to preparations for the vote and Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has said he would use force if necessary to stop it from proceeding.
A poll in August by the Center for Peace and Human Security at the American University of Kurdistan showed an overwhelming majority — around 80 percent — in favor of independence.
Currently, the Kurdish regional government operates as a semi-autonomous region under the Iraqi federal system. There are about 35 million Kurds in total, split among four Middle Eastern nations; they constitute about 17 percent of the Iraqi population.
However, the international community and military coalition partners do not support the timing of the referendum.
Israel, which would welcome a potential ally in the region, is the only country that backs the vote.
The United States presidential envoy for the coalition, Brett McGurk said the vote was “ill-timed” and “ill-advised,” given that international partners are working in Iraq to defeat the Islamic State. The Kurds have attempted cultivate support among Americans — including, according to the New York Times, hiring President Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, as an adviser.
The U.S. has offered to facilitate talks between the Kurdish regional government and Iraqi central government in Baghdad, but the Kurds are insisting on guarantees from the international community that it will eventually recognize their independent state.
The government in Baghdad says the referendum violates the Iraqi Constitution, but the Kurds say the Iraqi federal government has violated their rights.
The issue dates back at least to the end of World War I, when the Ottoman Empire was carved up into territories, including what is now Iraq. The boundaries left the Kurdish people split among several nations.
Now Kurdish President Masoud Barzani, who has stayed in office for more than a year past the end of his term under an emergency declaration, hopes to start the process toward independence before stepping down.