SULAIMANI, Kurdistan Region—The Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), one of the two ruling parties in the Kurdistan Region, offered on Thursday its unanimous support for a referendum on whether people in the region wish to stay with or break away from the republic of Iraq.
With PUK’s backing, the number of political parties that publicly have given their go-ahead for the much-debated referendum has risen to three, including the Kurdistan Islamic Union (KIU) and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP). The three parties along with the 11 independent MPs hold more than 76 of parliaments 111 seats, or two-thirds of the total number, which means the house can constitutionally hold the much-anticipated ballot.
“The PUK stands firm in supporting the right to self-determination for our people. Therefore we reiterate that in the right circumstances in Kurdistan, we see referendum as democratic and legal rights of our people. We expect the Arab, Turkmen and other Iraqi and neighboring nations to support the people of Kurdistan in realizing this right,” the PUK said in a written statement issued after a general leadership meeting in Sulaimani Thursday.
The statement however does not set a timetable for the vote but conditions it on “right circumstances” which is an implicit reference to the ongoing political and economic turmoil that have gripped the Kurdistan Region since last year.
The announcement was in response to Kurdish president Massoud Barzani’s earlier call on political parties to rally behind the referendum call.
In his February 2 statement Barzani said the time had come for the people of Kurdistan to have their say about independence.
“If the Kurds expect others to hand them independence as a present they’ll never achieve independence. That right is there and the Kurds must seek and fulfill it,” Barzani said.
Iraqi Kurdistan held its first unofficial referendum in January 2005 in which more than 99 percent of the voters supported independence.
But the forthcoming referendum, if held, will be constitutionally binding, as it will most probably have the parliament’s full endorsement.
Iraq’s constitution underlines that the Kurdistan Region could break away from the country if the constitution is violated and the rights of people of the region are not safeguarded.
With the current economic and security tumult in Iraq and while Baghdad has virtually frozen all payments to Erbil since 2014, it seems increasingly improbable for the Iraqi government to try to prevent Kurdistan from secession.
Barzani has said “most countries” will back Kurdistan’s independence if the referendum favors breakaway.