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McGurk: Entire coalition can’t support ‘ill-advised’ Kurdish referendum

By Rudaw 14/9/2017
Brett McGurk, the US president's envoy to the anti-ISIS coalition, speaks at a press conference in Erbil, Kurdistan Region, on Sept. 14. Photo: Rudaw
Brett McGurk, the US president's envoy to the anti-ISIS coalition, speaks at a press conference in Erbil, Kurdistan Region, on Sept. 14. Photo: Rudaw
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — Brett McGurk, a US diplomat who helps to lead the international anti-ISIS coalition, described an alternative plan presented to Kurdish leaders as one that resolves outstanding issues between Erbil and Baghdad requiring “serious effort” towards dialogue, adding the entire coalition holds the same view of the Kurdistan Region’s upcoming referendum.

“We did of course re-iterate the position of the United States that this referendum is ill-timed and ill-advised. It is not something that we can support. That’s not simply our position, that’s the position of our entire international coalition,” stressed McGurk on Thursday, who is the US Special Presidential Envoy (SPE) to the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS.

McGurk spoke at a press conference in the Kurdistan Region’s capital of Erbil after meeting with President Masoud Barzani and other Kurdish officials in Duhok. The UN’s Special Representative for the Secretary-General to Iraq Jan Kubis, British Ambassador to Iraq Frank Baker, US Ambassador to Iraq Douglas Silliman, and US Consulate General Ken Gross also attended the meeting.

They presented an alternative in place of the Kurdish referendum during their meeting with the Kurdish president; the Kurdish leadership is to study the offer, a statement from the Kurdish presidency read. 

McGurk called on the Kurdish leadership to embrace the alternative. 

“We would very much encourage the political leaders here in the Kurdistan Region to embrace this alternative path. It’s a path focused on a sustained process of negotiation, dialogue, making sure we have a very serious effort through negotiation to resolve many of the outstanding issues that are confronting the Region and central government in Baghdad,” 

The US SPE to the 69-nation coalition said that he was not going to discuss details of the diplomatic engagements, calling them “very constructive.”

He acknowledged that President Barzani and his team issued a statement calling the meeting “very constructive discussion,” adding that he, himself, agreed it was. “I think he welcomed the constructive discussion — that was stated [by Barzani]. And also about this alternative that was presented, we understand that this decision is not his alone, this is a decision that has to be made by all the political leaders here in the Kurdistan Region.”

McGurk and the other foreign diplomats have been meeting over the past few days with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, as well as leaders from the major Kurdish parties including Hero Ibrahim of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and Gorran’s Omar Sayid Ali.

“I am hopeful that they will have following discussions here over the coming days and that they will be very fruitful,” said McGurk. “We’re very hopeful that [alternative] path can be embraced because the path forward right now is a very risky one.”

McGurk noted and the international community won’t see the process of the referendum as “legitimate.”

“There’s not international support for the referendum really from anybody. To have a legitimate process, you want to have observers, you want to have the United Nations — you want to have international legitimacy. And there’s no international legitimacy for this process. That could be because of the timeline that was put on [by the High Referendum Council], it might be fore number of reasons,” McGurk said.



He offered that Kurdistan’s parliament hasn’t met in nearly two years.

Parties in the Kurdistan Region have had intensive meetings over the past week to discuss re-activating the parliament. The referendum is being overseen by the Kurdistan Region's Independent High Electoral and Referendum Commission (IHREC), which was decided upon on June 6 in a meeting with nearly all major Kurdish parties.

Parliament had initially been set to convene on Thursday, but delayed until Friday to comply with legal procedures requiring sessions to begin “48 hours after the call for assembly,” deputy speaker Jaafar Iminiki told Rudaw on Wednesday, adding  “48 hours after the call for assembly,”

Stéphane Dujarric, the spokesperson for the UN Secretary General said in June that the UN would participate in an electoral process “usually at the demand of the national authorities.”

The Iraqi government is opposed to the Kurdish referendum calling it unconstitutional and unilateral. The Kurdish government, however, accuses the Iraqi government for having violated about one-third of the Iraqi constitution including Article 140 that concerns the issue of the disputed or Kurdistani areas claimed by both Baghdad and Erbil such as the oil-rich Kirkuk, where a referendum should’ve been undertaken in 2007.

The Iraqi parliament rejected the Kurdish referendum on Tuesday calling it a "threat" against the unity of Iraq while committing the Iraqi government to take "all measures" to prevent the vote from taking place. 

Today’s meeting was at a coordination center in Duhok that was just 5 kilometers away from ISIS territory in 2014. Because of Iraqi and Kurdish Peshmerga forces’ coordination, McGurk explained, ISIS is now hundreds of kilometers away.

McGurk again extended condolences to families of the thousands of Peshmerga and Iraqi security forces who have been killed in the war against ISIS.

Barzani responded to the meetings hinting that it would be up to the High Referendum Council to study the proposal.

“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,” a statement from the presidency read.

After the meeting with the foreign officials, Barzani spoke at an independence rally in Zakho.

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 has previously said that the timetable for negotiations with Baghdad after the September 25 vote is “flexible but not open-ended.”


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Take it or leave it | 14/9/2017
Shame, shame on you America for this treacherous stance against the legitimate right of your only ally in the Middle-east. But don't worry, you are only fooling yourself, we Kurds learned a long time ago, "No friends, but the mountains". The people of Kurdistan stand behind this referendum and no one can stop us. President Barzani is pushing this in favor of his people and should so. We have never been so close like this, all the blood we have spilled won't be for nothing. Give us the guarantee of international support, including the Kirkuk and Khaneqin region, if we are to postpone it to next year or otherwise you can F*ck off. We are glad to be your ally, but it has to come from two sides.
Joel | 14/9/2017
Lengthy article about the referendum, but you never explain what the referendum is about. FYI the basic question is: “Do you want the Kurdistan Region and the Kurdistani areas outside the administration of the Region to become an independent state?” Now your article make some sense!
Dana | 14/9/2017
WTF is the "alternative" when Baghdad has broken every single agreement including their own law and constitution! How the F@#$ can we trust any kind of "new agreement" with such people? Baghdad has to PROVE it by deed, they have to back pay every penny they owe us since 2003 pluss compensation pluss 25% of their arms pluss ALL disputed areas come under Kurdistan pluss American gurantees that at the slightest violation we get to declare indipendence. Anything short of this is madness
Haval | 14/9/2017
Mr Barzani, please be wise and listen to the international community . This is the last chance and they are not joking . Please don't lead the Kurds to another disaster . Call off this referndum and sit down with Baghdad . This is the only way going forward . Otherwise we are doomed . We will be left alone and everything we achieved in the last 13 years will be wiped out in a blink . Please please please .
Muraz Adzhoev | 14/9/2017
It is obviously clear that the only alternative plan that resolves the most outstanding issues of the People of Southern Kurdistan is the self-determination referendum on territorial and humanitarian reintegration and sovereign independence of democratic and secular federative Southern Kurdistan from deadly failed, bloody, hostile and criminal, artificially created Iraqi Arab Islamic federation. Erbil is obliged already to conduct the self-determination referendum on time and then in accordance with the sovereign will of the People officially declare independence of reintegrated Southern Kurdistan. The US-led "alternative plan" is absolutely unacceptable, because it is actually ill-advised, unreasonable, unjustified and immoral. The sovereign authorities of Kurdistan Region should make US-led coalition countries see, understand and respect at last powerful political, national, patriotic and historical will of the People of Southern Kurdistan. The hundred-years long anti-Kurdish nation criminal, immoral international game is over and will never ever again be continued. And if the countries of the US-led coalition have decided to use once again the Kurdish people as the "traditional sacral victim" for their geopolitical "pragmatic" interests, then they should be ready to become soon very much surprised how wrong they were.

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