Ammar al-Hakim, the head of the Shiite National Alliance. He has been working on a document called the National Settlement or Reconciliation for more than a year, aimed at restructuring Iraq after the defeat of ISIS. Photo:Rudaw
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Iraq’s ruling Shiite coalition would oppose Kurdish efforts to hold a referendum on independence in the Kurdistan Region, Ammar al-Hakim, the head of the coalition said in an interview.
Hakim heads a group of Shiite parties under the umbrella of the National Alliance that also includes Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s Dawa party.
"If this referendum happens, it will be unilateral," Hakim told Reuters on Thursday in the Egyptian capital of Cairo where he held a meeting with the country’s president.
"We will insist on dialogue" as a means to resolve the disagreement, Hakim said when asked what the Shiite parties would do if the Kurds insist on holding the referendum.
Kurdish forces have expanded their territory by at least 40 percent since the rise of ISIS, especially in the disputed areas claimed both by Erbil and Baghdad, including Kirkuk that has come under de-facto control of the Peshmerga since 2014 when Iraqi forces withdrew from these areas in the face of the advancing extremist group.
"We believe that the politics of accomplished facts and drawing borders with blood hasn't succeeded in any country of the world and won't have good results in Iraq either,” Hakim warned, commenting on the Kurdish efforts to annex some of the disputed areas, labelled Kurdistani areas outside the Kurdistan Region by Kurdish authorities.
Hakim downplayed a military confrontation between Kurdish and Iraqi forces, in particular with the mainly Shiite Hashd al-Shaabi.
"Using weapons against Iraqis is not an option," he said.
Kirkuk governor and other senior Kurdish officials have said that the oil-rich province will be included in the referendum.
Kurdish President Masoud Barzani told reporters in Erbil on Thursday that they too choose the dialogue path with the regard to the referendum, adding that Kurdish parties are now planning to set a time frame for the vote.
Barzani said that those who criticize the referendum have not understood it well.
“They might not have understood the situations very well. Holding a referendum is intended to communicate the opinions of the entire Kurdistan nation to the world,” Barzani said.
“This is a process for which we will be talking to other parties, especially Baghdad. This doesn’t mean we will immediately be adopting the path of violence. Rather, we will be choosing the path of peace and dialogue,” the Kurdish president added as he held a joint press conference with the German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel.
Barzani repeated the Kurdish stance that an independent Kurdistan will lead to further stability in the region.
The main Kurdish parties insist that they will not immediately declare an independent state after a yes-vote in the referendum, a result that Iraqi and Kurdish leaders say is expected.
Hakim met with President Barzani in February in which he discussed what he calls the National Reconciliation Document.
The initiative’s core principle is to build future relations between Iraq’s different religious and ethnic communities and political parties.
Hakim's document says that Iraqis, including the Kurds, should not “divide” Iraq under any circumstances.
“Faith and commitment in word and deed of the unity of Iraq's land and people and preserve the sovereignty and independence of the decision and its identity and its parliamentary democratic system and reject dividing it under any circumstance,” reads the document, which the Shiite cleric has been working on for more than a year.
Hakim has met with Iraqi parties and sought the support of such neighboring and regional countries as Iran and Jordan as well the Arab league. His visit to Egypt is seen as part of rallying support for his initiative.
Kurdish leaders, including President Masoud Barzani, have had good relations with Hakim’s Supreme Council that goes back decades when both sides were part of the opposition that sought to remove the then Iraqi regime under Saddam Hussein.
Hakim and Kurdish leaders repeatedly recall what they say is a “historic” religious decree from the Hakim family that prohibited fighting against the Kurds under Saddam’s rule.
Dawa party, however, is headed by the former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki who does not have easy relations with Erbil.