Kurdish President Masoud Barzani [R] and the head of the ruling Shiite National Alliance Ammar al-Hakim hold a joint press conference last October near Mosul where Iraqi and Kurdish forces launched a joint military operation to recapture Mosul from the ISIS group. Relations between the Kurdish and Shiite parties have historically been strong and friendly, especially with Hakim's Islamic Supreme Council. Photo: AFP.
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – An independent Kurdistan will create a “political tsunami” whose waves will be felt across the entire region and no country except Israel will recognize it if declared today. Iraq is not ready to give consent to a Kurdish independence referendum for now, and should Kurds follow through with independence, it may unleash a storm that encourages Sunni and Shiite areas to follow suit creating several Iraqs, Iraq’s influential Shiite leader Ammar al-Hakim said in an interview aired on Wednesday.
The Shiite leader, whose Shiite Alliance holds the position of the Iraqi Prime Minister, said that the current and former US administrations have emphasized their commitment to a “united Iraq,” when asked by the Egyptian On Live TV if the US may recognize an independent Kurdistan.
He said that the Kurds can choose which way they take, the example of South Sudan which received international recognition because it sought the consent of the central government, or Turkish Cyprus, which lacks any recognition.
Hakim argued that it is not in the interest of Arab or Islamic countries in the region to support Kurdish dreams for independence.
“It will spread to the Arab areas, and there are trends and calls in the Sunni areas and Shiite areas, a desire for [creating] regions, but [they] are looking to the example of regions in the Kurdish way," Hakim said.
"The fragmentation of Iraq to five, six, nine, or 15 Iraqs will not stop at the Iraqi borders. This political tsunami will expand to the entire region and we will see dangerous transformations. That is why I do not believe it is in the interest of any Arab or Islamic states who are surrounding Iraq to walk in line with these ambitions.”
No one but Israel will recognize independence
Given the ongoing crises in Kurdistan, Iraq, and the region, the time is not right for an independent state, Hakim said, despite the fact that they “understand and respect” Kurdish dreams for a country of their own.
“It is a known fact that the brothers in Kurdistan have an ambition and a dream to form a Kurdish state. And their argument is that the Arabs have 22 states, the Persians have a state, and the Turks have a state, and other nations have states. Then why could not the Kurds have a state while their numbers can be 50 million or more in the countries of the region. And this dream goes back to more than 70 years. This may continue decades more [during which] it may or may not be achieved.”
“We believe that the current environment is not helpful to create these regions. Not in terms of the internal problems in Kurdistan and the size of its financial, political and security problems, and the challenges that it faces in between the generous Kurdish forces, nor in the face of the Iraqi equation, the fragile conditions and the challenges that face Iraq. And not even in terms of the international and regional environment. I personally do not see any state that could recognize a Kurdish state in the current environment except for Israel.”
Kurds can follow South Sudan or Cyprus way
Hakim said that an independent Kurdistan declared following a “unilateral” decision will face legitimacy issues, and as the result will bring “many problems.”
“We say in our meetings with our Kurdish brothers that there are two examples: the Sudanese example and the Cyprus. South Sudan, with a central decision from the Sudanese state, they went to the referendum, and the results were recognized officially, and the Sudanese state was the first state that officially recognized South Sudan, and the world recognized that state.”
“But Cyprus itself went with a unilateral decision, and [as the result] we do not see anyone recognizing it except Turkey. That is why we believe that if the Kurdistan Region wanted to transform to a state without the consent of Baghdad or a decision from all of the Iraqis, it will see a condition of declined recognition in its legitimacy afterwards, and will face many problems. Iraq is not ready to embrace a step like this."
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 as ISIS came.
Hakim warned Kurdish leaders on Thursday that drawing borders by virtue of military force will not succeed in Iraq.
"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 told Reuters, commenting on Kurdish efforts to annex some of the disputed areas, labelled Kurdistani areas outside the Kurdistan Region by Kurdish authorities.
He said that Iraq’s ruling Shiite coalition would also oppose Kurdish efforts to hold a referendum on independence in the Kurdistan Region.
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.