HALABJA, Kurdistan Region – A referendum on Kurdistan independence must be dealt with through the central government in Baghdad, argued the UK’s ambassador to Iraq, adding that his country does not support such a vote at this time.
Frank Baker said in a press conference on Monday during a visit to Halabja province that they have made their position very clear. “The government of the United Kingdom does not believe that now is the right time to hold the referendum for the Kurdish Region,” he said when asked about the UK’s position on holding the referendum scheduled for September 25.
Baghdad must be on board for the vote to take place, he said, comparing it to a similar vote in 2014 when Scotland took to the polls to vote for or against independence from the UK.
“We believe that any referendum has to be agreed with Baghdad, just like we had our Scottish referendum. It was agreed in Westminster and a decision was taken in the British parliament, not Scottish parliament, and the wording of the referendum was decided in the British parliament, not in the Scottish parliament,” Baker said.
“We do not have a problem with holding a referendum at some stage. It has to be agreed with the government of Iraq in Baghdad.”
The UK’s House of Lords Select Committee on International Relations released a policy report
in May which recommended that the UK should not support Kurdish attempts for independence in the Kurdistan Region.
At the same time, the report said the UK should not use its resources to keep countries in the Middle East, including Iraq, unitary and fully-functioning where that was not likely to happen.
Iraqi Kurds, the report said, are the most effective fighting force against ISIS and have been able to trade their military victories for more diplomatic recognition and financial support.
The Committee concludes that “we recognise that there is a balance to be drawn between engaging with sub-state actors, and avoiding the risk of undermining the central state. Nevertheless, the Iraqi Kurds are a valuable ally, and the UK should support the Kurdistan Regional Government financially and its Peshmerga forces with military capacity. The UK should not, however, support attempts by the Iraqi Kurds to seek independence.”
The report stopped short of opposing Kurdish independence.
The report also argues that “It is not a specifically UK interest that countries of the Middle East remain centralised, unitary states. The UK should not devote political will or resources to deliver the goal of unitary and fully-functioning states where this is unattainable, as could well prove to be the case in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen. Neither should the UK actively support this process of state unravelling. It should, however, be prepared to live with de facto arrangements and de facto sub-state entities.”
It adds that a UK policy priority should be to build local ties and seek the broadest range of relationships with a range of sub-state actors.
Baghdad has said that it does not agree with a “unilateral” referendum held by the Kurdistan Region. The central government’s position is that that the entire nation should have their say over the future of Iraq and the Iraqi constitution should regulate the relationship between itself and the Kurdish government.
“All Iraqis must have their say over the future of their homeland. No party can determine its fate independent of others,” Saad al-Hadithi, the spokesperson of the Iraqi prime minister was quoted as saying by Iraqi state media last week.