PM Haider al-Abadi and the Iraq Supreme Court have directed the Kurdistan Region in Iraq to suspend the upcoming referendum on Kurdish Independence. As I have written before, there is no applicable law or section of the constitution that gives any Iraqi federal entity the authority to halt a regional referendum. Nevertheless, legal rights and military action have not always gone hand in hand.
When a group of German lawyers confronted Hitler, his response was: You bring your law books and I will bring my guns and we will see who wins. This may soon be the situation Kurdistan will face. Academic arguments have a place and legal review is the preferred action in disputes; however, there are times when a group of people, or governments, decide that force is the preferred method of conflict resolution. Turkey and Iran have also announced their objections, and Turkey is holding military exercises across the border from Kurdistan. The Iraqi parliament voted to have Abadi use all means necessary to stop the referendum even although he previously said he will not send tanks to the Kurdish region.
No one can seriously argue that this move by the Kurds comes as a surprise. The Iraqi Kurdish population has been treated as second class citizens since the inception of the country and has been fighting for its independence ever since. The arguments made by Baghdad, as well as Washington, ring hollow on all counts.
To desire the retention of Iraq as a single unified country may sound noble but in fact rejects history and facts on the ground. The treatment of the different sectors of Iraq by various past governments has proved that Iraq was never a unified country, run at times by the British, Sunni and now Shia entities, the minorities were always discounted, especially the Kurds. For the other major objection, Kurdish independence will be disruptive on the war against ISIS, how could any intelligent person believe this?
ISIS or any Islamic terrorist group will be a threat whether it is an autonomous region of Iraq or an independent nation. The only countries that can disrupt the war on ISIS are the ones claiming it will be disrupted: Iraq, Iran, and Turkey. The Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga and their counterparts in Syria have been at the forefront of the fight from the beginning even as others had run.
Regardless, none of this will likely convince those, who now fear the inevitable from attempting to impose with force that which they cannot stop. Those nations that have told Erbil to continue to negotiate with Baghdad over differences, ignoring the fact that Baghdad has refused to do so in more than a decade, now need to be the force to stop any military action from Iraq, Turkey or wherever.
Unlike the velvet divorce of Czechoslovakia, Baghdad is not likely to let neither go of the Kurdish region voluntarily nor will Turkey stand-down its military operations of fighting against the Kurds wherever they might be. Without some outside interference, there will be violence. I have no doubt the Kurdish Peshmerga will be able to resist the Iraqi Army and bloody the Turks. But why should they have to?
One bright spot in this is the recent contract signed by the KRG with the Russian oil company Rosneft to invest in a gas pipeline in Kurdistan. This brings Russia into the game with a need to protect its interests. The down side of this for the Kurds is that Russia has never been a reliable partner to anyone. This extension of the “Great Game” could at least provide a respite for the Kurds.
Kurdistan and the world need to be prepared for any eventuality. The only thing I am reasonably sure of is that there will be a referendum and the Kurds will vote for independence. What follows is unknown.
Paul Davis is a retired US Army military intelligence and former Soviet analyst. He is a consultant to the American intelligence community specializing in the Middle East with a concentration on Kurdish affairs. Currently he is the president of the consulting firm JANUS Think in Washington D.C.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Rudaw.