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.”