European Union flags in Frankfurt, Germany. Photo: Daniel Roland/AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – The Council of the European Union, in its conclusions on Iraq, has warned against “unilateral actions” in the country and urged dialogue among all parties.
The Council voiced its “steadfast support for Iraq’s unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity” and its commitment to the preservation of Iraqi’s diverse society, following a meeting on Monday on Iraq.
Though it did not explicitly refer to the Kurdistan Region’s referendum on independence planned for September 25, the Council stressed that “unilateral steps must be avoided” and all issues must be resolved through consensus “based on the full application of the provisions of the Iraqi Constitution.”
It called on Erbil and Baghdad to build on the military cooperation they established over the war against ISIS in Mosul and extend that constructive relationship into all issues “across the political and economic spectrum, including the disputed internal boundaries.”
The Council also urged Kurdish parties to restore “the functioning of its democratic institutions, including by holding regional elections.”
Individual EU member states have expressed sympathy with Kurdish aspirations while reiterating their support for Iraqi unity and concerns about the timing of the referendum.
In an interview on the Greek radio station Alpha on June 10, Greece’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikos Kotzias, stressed that the European Union seeks Iraqi unity, “but as you know, the unity of a country must result from the wishes of its citizens and not third parties.”
He said that the referendum was something that was provided for by Iraq’s initial constitutional agreement, “but the right was never exercised in practice.”
Mentioning the self-autonomous Kurdish region of northern Syria, Rojava, which Turkey opposes, Kotzias said “in all these countries, the Kurds should have the rights that the Republic of Cyprus intends to grant to the Turkish Cypriot community.”
Britain’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson stated last week that the UK understands “the aspirations of the Kurdish people and continue to support them politically, culturally and economically within Iraq.”
“But a referendum at this time will distract from the more urgent priorities of defeating Daesh, stabilizing liberated areas and addressing the long-term political issues that led to Daesh’s rise.”
Germany has warned that Kurdish independence could cause instability. “Redrawing the lines of the state is not the right way and could exacerbate an already difficult and unstable situation, in Erbil as well as Baghdad,” Germany Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said earlier this month.
He called for dialogue.
The Kurdish leadership has downplayed such reactions. “I believe what has been done so far by the countries is a normal thing. It is not a big reaction,” said Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, said last week, adding that the international reactions so far are not a cause for concern.
The head of the Kurdish government’s Department of Foreign Relations Falah Mustafa said that his message when he meets foreign leaders and representatives hesitant to publicly support the referendum is to at least not stand in the way.
“If governments, countries are not able to support that publicly, then we do request that they will not stand against it publicly,” Mustafa said earlier in June.
He maintains that privately, many foreign dignitaries express “sympathy and support” for the people of Kurdistan.
A multi-party committee that hopes to include members of all political parties in the Kurdistan Region will be tasked with visiting neighbouring and foreign countries to discuss the planned referendum and independence.
Mustafa said his government seeks to reassure allies that an independent Kurdistan will be a partner for peace and stability.