ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – The Turkish Foreign Ministry has said that a decision by the Kurdistan Region to hold an independence referendum on Sept 25 is a “grave mistake” and against Turkey's Iraq policy that seeks the preservation of the territorial integrity of that country.
Spokesperson of the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi stated on Friday that all Iraqis must have a say on the future of the country, and that one side cannot take the decisions in their own hands independent of the rest of country.
Germany also warned Thursday against Erbil taking unilateral decision, while the US said they appreciate the "legitimate aspirations" of the Kurdish people.
Iraq says no to unilateral referendum
“Any decision that concerns the future of Iraq must take into consideration the constitutional texts as it is an Iraqi decision,” Saad al-Hadithi, the spokesperson of PM Abadi was quoted as saying by the state TV on Friday.
He added that we rely on the Iraqi constitution to regulate the relationship between the central government and the Kurdish government.
“All Iraqis must have their say over the future of their homeland. No party can determine its fate independent of others.”
In April, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said that now was not the time to hold a referendum.
“The desire of our Kurdish brothers to create a country of their own is their right given the desire and the objective and nobody has the right to deter them,” he said. “But holding a referendum at this time is not right as the ISIS war still rages, the region’s situation is not suitable and some neighboring countries believe this move poses a threat to the nation’s security themselves.”
Turkey:Kurdish referendum decision ‘grave mistake’ leading to instability
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim told reporters on Friday that holding the referendum is irresponsible, and that the region had enough problems.
The Turkish Ministry said in a written statement on Friday that they have relayed their concerns to the Kurdish government, Iraq and the leading countries of the international community.
The Turkish statement stresses that the referendum on independence is not in the interest of Iraq, or that of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in particular.
It said that given the current developments in the region, the referendum will have “negative consequences” that will then lead to instability.
The statement from Ankara argues that the decision to raise the flag of Kurdistan in Kirkuk in March is what has initiated the referendum process.
It says that the priority for now is the war against ISIS in Iraq where Kurdish and Iraqi security forces are engaged in months-long military operation against the extremist group, especially in Mosul.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned then that if the local government in Kirkuk, under the control of the Kurdish parties, decided not to lower the Kurdistan flag, the relations between Ankara and Erbil may suffer as the result.
Erbil and Ankara have developed strong political, security and economic relations for about a decade.
It is also by far the only gateway for the export of Kurdish oil that is independently sent to the international market.
Erbil has taken the decision to form several committees to oversee the process, including sending out delegations to the neighboring, regional and the international community to rally support for what President Masoud Barzani has called a historic vote.
Head of the KRG’s Department of Foreign Relations Falah Mustafa told Rudaw English on Thursday that they ask those government who cannot in publicly support the move, not to oppose it, either.
“If governments, countries are not able to support that publicly, then we do request that they will not stand against it publicly,” Mustafa said.
In his many meetings with international dignitaries and government representatives, asking them to support independence, Mustafa said he presents Kurdistan independence as a solution, not a problem. Kurdistan will be a “partner for peace and stability.”
A senior Kurdish official revealed in mid April that both Ankara and Tehran threatened Erbil after the Kurdish-led local government in Kirkuk raised the Kurdistan flag alongside the Iraqi one over state buildings.
It was these threats, along with “illogical and unexpected” messages coming out of Baghdad, that compelled the two main ruling parties in Kurdistan to meet and decide on holding a referendum on independence, Saadi Ahmad Pira, a member of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) said.
“We received a strong message from Turkey, threatening us,” Pira explained, saying the threat was made in the days following a majority vote from the Kirkuk Provincial Council to raise the Kurdistan flag. “We received a message from Iran, strongly threatening us.”
“In Iraq, where Sunnis and Shiites are in extreme disagreement, they became one and joined together over the issue of the Kurdistan flag,” he continued. “That is why we were forced to meet on the 2nd.”
A high-level meeting of Kurdish leadership took place in Erbil on April 2 to discuss options to respond to the messages received from Ankara, Tehran, and Baghdad. The meeting concluded with an announcement that the Kurdistan Region will hold a referendum on independence in 2017.
With this announcement, the Kurdish leadership “instead of backing down, took a step forward with referendum,” so that we are in “offensive mode,” said Pira.
Two days after the April 2 meeting, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned Kirkuk is not Kurdish alone, but also Turkmen and Arab, and that if the Kurdistan flag is not taken down in the city, a price will be paid. He warned that ties between and Erbil may suffer.
The Iranian Quds commander, Qasem Soleimani, visited Sulaimani, the PUK stronghold, in an attempt to discourage a referendum on independence in the Kurdistan Region, the Arab-language newspaper Sharq al-Awsat reported.
In a diplomatic effort, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and PUK, and the Kurdish government held a meeting behind closed doors with foreign missions in Erbil in April to officially inform them about Kurdish intentions to hold a referendum on independence.
Some 30 foreign consulates in Erbil, including those of Turkey and Iran, were invited to the meeting. Kurdish leaders emphasized that the referendum will be confined to Iraqi Kurdistan territories, dispelling possible fears that the Kurdish government may interfere in neighboring countries that have significant Kurdish populations, namely Turkey, Iran, and Syria.
Germany warned against 'one-sided' referendum
Germany warned Thursday against Erbil taking unilateral decision.
"We can only warn against one-sided steps on this issue. The unity of Iraq is on the line," Gabriel said in a statement according to Reuters. "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 is a member of the US-led Global Coalition against the ISIS group providing training and military equipments to the Kurdish Peshmerga worth million of dollars since the start of the war in 2014.
"I call on all sides to seek dialogue, to find consensus for dealing with open questions, and not to reignite conflicts in the disputed areas of Erbil and Baghdad," Gabriel said.
He too called to focus on the war against the ISIS group and its subsequent impacts.
The referendum will also be held in disputed areas, called by Erbil the Kurdistan areas outside the administration of Kurdistan.
Kurdish Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani refused on Monday to call any of the areas disputed, calling on them Kurdistani areas.
“We no longer have disputed areas,” PM Barzani said, “It has been a long time that these areas were liberated. And of course these areas have never been disputed areas. They are the Kurdistan Region and have been liberated by the blood of the martyrs and the Peshmerga. Any talk on this issue should not be like it used to be some years ago. I believe that Baghdad also understands this...this has gone from our dictionary.”
PM Barzani said that Erbil is ready to seek a negotiated solutions to the outstanding problems in between them, but that any agreement should secure a win-win solution for both sides.
United States says it appreciates 'legitimate aspirations" of Kurdish people
The United States stated on Thursday that it appreciates the "legitimate aspirations" of the people in Iraqi Kurdistan, a day after officials in Erbil set September 25 as the date to hold a referendum on independence.
"We support a unified, stable and a federal Iraq," said US State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert. "We appreciate and understand the legitimate aspirations of the people of the Iraqi Kurdistan."
President Barzani "seriously discussed" the issue of Kurdistan independence with the the US Vice President Mike Pence in February in Munich, Barzani's senior advisor Hemin Hawrami told Rudaw then.