DARBANDIKHAN, Kurdistan Region – A senior Kurdish official has hinted that the Kurdistan Region is prepared to accept “an alternative” to the independence referendum if they are given regional and international “guarantees” that makes sure, beyond any doubt, that the Kurds will have their rights protected through a new arrangement.
Mala Bakhtiar, a senior member of the ruling Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), whose party is instrumental in the bid to hold referendum in less than two months, said that a “confederation” can be a viable solution as a new arrangement between Erbil and Baghdad.
“We will either be part of the equation to [get] the legal guarantees to our rights on an international and regional level, or we will ourselves decide on our destiny,” the official said as he addressed a gathering in Darbandikhan, south of Sulaimani on Thursday night.
He said his party met with Turkish and Iranian diplomats, as well the UN Envoy to Iraq Ján Kubiš in the last two days, all reiterating the fact that the Kurds are right when they mention that Iraq has not been committed to the Iraqi constitution, including the budget that has been cut by Baghdad since early 2014, and Article 140 that concerns the disputed, or Kurdistani, areas claimed by Erbil and Baghdad.
Bakhtiar however said that this is not enough, and that such talks will not fool the Kurds.
“We have not seen a guarantee as an alternative to referendum. And we will not be deceived by the language used by this or that official. Let everyone hear this — and this is not my opinion, but also the opinion of every Kurdistani parties — we will not be deceived by the language of any official, in Iraq or the region. We demand legal and international guarantees [stipulating] that the structure of Iraq be changed, and for us to be reassured of our destiny in the region, not just in Iraq, but also in the region,” the official said, hinting that one solution, as an alternative to an independent Kurdistan could be a confederation between Erbil and Baghdad.
He said the era when regional and other countries can decide on behalf of the Kurdish people is long gone.
“Gone Sykes-Picot, gone [Treaty of] Lausanne, gone Algiers Agreement, gone Iran-Iraq war, and Anfal and Arabization,” Bakhtiar said, listing a number of agreements and events that did not serve the rights of Kurds, including the right to their own state.
The Kurdistan Region is set to hold the referendum on independence on September 25, including in the disputed areas such as the oil-rich and multi-ethnic Kirkuk.
He slammed foreign countries, especially the international community, and reminded them of their absolute silence when the Iraqi regime committed genocide against the Kurds for decades.
Turkey and Iran have expressed their objection to the vote, and Baghdad calls it unconstitutional. The United States, among others, has said that now is not the right time.
“Unless the Halabja [chemical] attack, and unless Kuwait was invaded, the big countries did not utter a single word to defend us,” Bakhtiar said of the Kurdish city of Halabja that fell victim to the largest chemical attack ever carried out in the history against a civilian population in 1988, and the First Gulf War in 1991 when the United States defended tiny, oil-rich Kuwait.
“But twenty-four hours from our decision that we [said] will hold referendum, you all told us to stop,” he continued, describing the reaction to the announcement made by the Kurdish leadership in June.
He played down the regional objections to the referendum by Turkey and Iran, two neighbouring countries, each with significant Kurdish populations.
“Were they not against the federal [government]?” Bakhtiar reminded the people of the moment the Kurds declared the Kurdistan Region a federal region within Iraq without the consent of Baghdad.
He said each of these two countries, and others, soon decided to recognize the Kurdish region.
He said the reactions from the region and by the international community after the referendum will not be strong compared to when Erbil declares an independent state.
He said that trade between Erbil and Tehran is “even twice that of the Shiite Iran with the Shiite Iraq,” as he said the Kurdistan Region is a bigger and well-established market for both Iran and Turkey.
Regarding the argument put forward by some countries, first and foremost by the Unites States, that the fight against ISIS should remain a priority, the official said this does not concern the Kurdistan Region.
“We have [already] accomplished our mission,” Bakhtiar said as he said the ISIS militants have been driven out of all areas considered Kurdistan.
He said what remains is the responsibility of the Iraqi and Syrian government, including Hawija where he said they are prepared to take part in the offensive to liberate the town that is located southwest of Kirkuk.
He added they are ready to contribute to the war against ISIS anywhere they are needed.