DUHOK, Kurdistan Region – Representatives of the United Nations, the United States, and the United Kingdom presented an alternative in place of the Kurdish referendum during a meeting with the Kurdish President Masoud Barzani in Duhok on Thursday; the Kurdish leadership is to study the offer, a statement from the Kurdish presidency read.
“The visiting delegation presented an alternative in place of the holding the referendum on September 25. President Barzani received the alternative and welcomed constructive dialogue. But regarding the referendum and the presented alternative, he said that ‘it is not just my decision, and we will discuss this issue with the leadership of Kurdistan and will announce our stance in the near future,” the statement read.
Kurdish President Masoud Barzani said following the meeting with the visiting delegation in a rally for independence in Zakho in the province of Duhok, that the delegation had said that they are with the Kurdistan’s right to self-determination, but that they have concerns about the timing of the vote.
He said they told all visiting countries since day one that the Kurdish leadership is ready to accept an “alternative” that better achieves the Kurdish objective — independence.
UN Special Representative to the Secretary-General Jan Kubis, UK Ambassador to Iraq Frank Baker, US Ambassador to Iraq Douglas Silliman, US Special Presidential Envoy to the anti-ISIS coalition Brett McGurk, and US Consulate General to Erbil Ken Gross were among those who attended the meeting.
Barzani said that they do not accept an alternative that only calls for postponing the referendum without offering a guarantee that the people of Kurdistan would establish an independent Kurdistan.
He told the crowd that they will determine the fate of Kurdistan “on September 25,” as he said that the majority of parties in Kurdistan agreed to the stated date, and that no one single person or party can change that.
The Presidnet's remarks mean that the High Referendum Council is the right authority to study the presented alternative. The Council first announced in a June meeting to hold the referendum on September 25.
The media office of the High Referendum Council stated Thursday that “on September 25, the vote of the people of Kurdistan would be 'Yes' to found the state of Kurdistan.”
It added that “the people of Kurdistan have fears about the future. That is why it decided to take its own decision, and end its free [union] with a state that oppressed it for 100 years. The people of Kurdistan are not left with any option other than independence that is the principal right of any nation.”
Brett McGurk told reporters in a press conference following the meeting that the position of the United States is also held by the entire Global Coalition against ISIS that considers the vote on independence as “ill-advised” and “ill-timed”.
He said from Erbil that the United States believes that the referendum lacks “international legitimacy” and they do not view their objection to the vote conflicting with the values of democracy an international law.
The US Envoy said they provided a “potential alternative” to the “risky” referendum that would be acceptable to all sides in a “historic meeting” with Barzani in Duhok. He added that the priority for the Global Coalition is the war against ISIS, especially in Hawija, southwest of Kirkuk, where a joint operation between the Iraqi and Kurdish security forces “starts very soon” against ISIS.
He described their meeting with President Barzani as “positive and constructive” and “fruitful.”
McGurk said they understand that the decision to hold the referendum is not a personal decision by Barzani, and that all parties in the Kurdistan Region have to discuss and study their offer that calls for sustained negotiations and dialogue between Erbil and Baghdad on the issue of independence.
The meeting took place in the coordination center for the war against ISIS, a statement from the Kurdish presidency said, which was just 5 kilometers away from the frontline when the war against ISIS began in 2014.
The Kurdish statement said that the visiting delegation commended the Peshmerga’s contribution to the war against ISIS, and saluted the Kurdish soldiers who lost their life throughout the campaign.
Brett McGurk, US special presidential envoy (SPE) to the global anti-ISIS coalition, met with the leadership of Kurdistan's second party Gorran on Wednesday to “make it clear to all political parties that the United States is 100 percent against holding the referendum on September 25,” according to a statement from Gorran.
McGurk said the US, UK, and France pledged to “ensure the success of negotiations with Baghdad in the coming stage” and promised to raise the issue at the UN Security Council in order to assist Erbil and Baghdad to establish new relations.
He also urged the Kurdish parliament to postpone the referendum.
The SPE also met on Wednesday with Hero Ibrahim, a PUK politburo member who is also the wife of the party’s Secretary-General Jalal Talabani.
McGurk, who was at the meeting with Barzani in Duhok, met with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on Tuesday and Kurdistan Region Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani on Wednesday.
President Barzani had said on record last month that any guarantee should be announced by the leadership of the visiting countries, not an ambassador or a minister. He made the remarks after he met with the US Secretary of Defense James Mattis, and many meetings with ambassadors from the US, UK, and UN, among others.
Any alternative, he said at the time, should be a better alternative to achieving the Kurdish right to self-determination than the current referendum, something he repeated on Wednesday in a rally for independence in Akre, near Duhok.
Barzani also said then that they will not postpone the referendum in return for political or financial concessions from Baghdad, ruling out anything the central government could offer the Kurdistan Region. But he said the international community could offer such a guarantee.
“There is one possibility: If the United States, the European Union, the Security Council, or the United Nations come and give an official guarantee to the people of Kurdistan, it is possible to discuss that. But if tomorrow an ambassador in Baghdad – a statement from an ambassador is worth nothing, because I myself have experience with it,” Barzani said, addressing civil society organizations on August 18.
He then said the guarantee should be a “great” one.
“If there is a great international guarantee, the political leadership of Kurdistan can then possibly tell the people that this is a more guaranteed [way]. But even that may be refused."
After a US delegation including Defense Secretary James Mattis, Silliman and McGurk met with high-level Kurdish and Iraqi officials in late August, the US Embassy in Iraq released a statement saying the US is ready to support a “new framework for dialogue” between the regional and central governments.
Clarification: German and French diplomats were not present at the meeting on Thursday, as Rudaw had mistakenly reported previously.