SULAIMANI, Kurdistan Region – The owner of the Sulaimani-based NRT TV, one of the biggest media organizations in the Kurdistan Region, has revealed that he will lead a vote-no campaign ahead of the Kurdistan independence referendum being held on September 25.
Shaswar Abdulwahid Qadir, who is also a businessman with no ties with established Kurdish parties, called the referendum a “dangerous gamble with people's lives.”
He recently completed a six-day visit to the United States where he met with several US congressmen and senators as well US officials. He said he discussed the issue of the referendum with the Americans who wanted to hear from people who are not politicians, including those in the media.
Asked whether he supports a no-vote, he said that he has founded a new movement to do so.
“Not just me. I talked to some people from the five major parties. We have created a new movement with regard to the referendum. We will launch a campaign in the coming week or two weeks to [vote] no,” he said.
He backtracked from his earlier statement that he intends to run for public office. He said he intended to say that if he wanted to make changes in the Kurdistan Region, he should enter politics with the aim of becoming prime minister.
He said that any successful referendum should have several preconditions, including the support of Iraq, Iran, and Turkey, as well as the United States. Domestically, he said the Kurdistan Region should first have a united Peshmerga force and national reconciliation between the various Kurdish parties.
Right now, he said, the Kurdistan Region is dependent on Turkey as its only gateway for the export of Kurdish oil. He warned that Turkey may trade Kurdistan for leverage with Iran, Iraq or possibly make some deal that could prevent Kurds in Syria from having their own autonomous region.
He described leaders from the five main parties as “cowards” who wouldn’t dare say they do not support the referendum on the planned date.
Qadir said the fact that the US has asked Kurdistan to postpone the vote should make Kurds think twice.
He said the US was instrumental in helping the Kurds several times in recent history. Americans protected Kurds from Baghdad after the first Gulf War of 1991 when it supported the no-fly zone and again in the 2003 invasion of Iraq when they stopped the central government from using military force against Erbil. And finally the US stopped the ISIS advance on the Kurdish capital in 2014.
Abdulwahid said that the Kurds should not upset such a powerful ally by holding the referendum.
The referendum is “an excuse by Kurdish leaders to remain in power,” Qadir told the Washington Post on Sunday. “The younger generation doesn’t know anything about their fight in the mountains against Saddam Hussein. So the old leaders need another excuse” to continue running the country.
The Washington Post said Qadir visited Washington to lobby the US to focus on democracy-building in the Kurdistan Region, pushing for free and fair elections instead of the referendum.