The people of Kurdistan voted on September 25 with 92.7 percent support for independence from Iraq. Photo: Hejar Jawhar/Rudaw
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – The United States’ last ditch effort to convince the Kurdish leadership to call off the referendum was an offer of accelerated negotiations to resolve all outstanding issues between Erbil and Baghdad, including addressing immediate fiscal and security needs, in talks that would be limited to one year, with the possibility of renewal, and a US guarantee to recognize a referendum if talks failed.
The offer was made in a letter from US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to Kurdistan Region President Masoud Barzani on September 23, two days before the referendum. A copy of the letter was published by Bloomberg.
In it, Tillerson called to mind the US’ relationship with Kurdistan and acknowledged the history that led Kurds to this point, but noted that pushing forward with the referendum at this time “would carry serious consequences – and even, perversely, set back your objectives.”
Tillerson requested four commitments from Barzani.
First, a commitment to talks, stressing that whatever solution ultimately comes about to Kurdistan’s problems with Iraq, whether it be independence or some formula to remain within Iraq, it will only be achieved through negotiation.
Second, the Peshmerga remain key partners in the global anti-ISIS coalition while the United States commits to accelerating their efforts to provide joint security in unstable, sensitive areas such as Shingal.
Third, Kurdistan Region’s borders be established as mandated under Article 140 of the Iraqi constitution that deals with the disputed areas. The US would commit to resolving these issues with cooperation from the UN and Baghdad within the one year timeframe.
Fourth, Barzani, as a valued statesman, “exert a positive influence in Baghdad” and assist in the formation of a new government after 2018 Iraqi elections.
In turn, the US would “support and facilitate” resolving three issues within a year’s time: implementing meaningful power and revenue sharing agreements, implementing Article 140, resolving other disputes such as Peshmerga, civil aviation, and diplomatic representation.
“At the end of this process, of course, should the talks not reach a mutually acceptable conclusion or fail on account of lack of good faith on the part of Baghdad we would recognize the need for a referendum,” Tillerson wrote.
According to Bloomberg, an earlier September 20 draft of the proposal did not contain this support for a referendum.
The same date as Tillerson’s letter, Barzani met with France’s ambassador to Iraq, telling him that it was too late to call off the referendum, being held in just two days’ time.
“No time is left to talk about postponing and the decision is not in the hands of a party or person,” he said.
Indeed, the first vote had already been cast by the time Tillerson made his offer.
In rejecting the multiple requests from international parties to postpone or cancel the vote, Barzani repeatedly said that any proposal must be an alternative to the referendum. The goal of the referendum is independence, so an alternative must guarantee that goal.
He also warned that any agreement had to be made with Baghdad, not other nations, and in the face of global condemnation of the referendum, Baghdad was emboldened to reject all suggestions with respect to relations with Kurdistan.
What can take the place of the referendum is “a bilateral agreement between Erbil and Baghdad, if the agreement materialized in a way that could take the place of the referendum. And then the international community, the US, Europe, backs that agreement and give guarantees that this agreement will be implemented,” said Barzani at a rally in the lead up to the vote.
If no viable alternative is offered, “it is impossible to postpone the referendum,” he said, stressing that the purpose of the September 25 referendum “is to tell the world that we want independence.”