Middle East |Emerging

Kurds vote on independence from Iraq

Talk (2)

Linh Nguyen

Linh Nguyen

"Hi Peter, very good point. This is th..."
Pete Young

Pete Young

"Hi, is there a chance we can update t..."

Residents of Iraqi-Kurdistan are heading to the polls on Monday for an independence referendum organized by President Masoud Barzani and his Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG).

Polling stations open their doors at 8:00 a.m. (1:00 a.m. ET) and the final results showed nearly 93 percent in favour of independence.

Though the vote is non-binding, meaning that it has no legal framework, it gives Iraqi-Kurds leverage to pursue independence.

The Kurds, who are mostly Sunni Muslims, do not have an official homeland but have a long history of trying to establish one in the Middle East. They live mainly in Turkey, Syria, Iran, and Iraq, where they enjoy relative political autonomy.

The referendum has caused backlash and opposition from the central government in Baghdad and the international community.

Neighbouring tension

Turkey, Iran, and Iraq are against the referendum and have agreed to consider counter-measures if it goes through.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Ergodan warned of sanctions and military intervention. Turkish troops are currently carrying out military exercises near the border.

The KRG is one of Turkey’s firm allies, and pushing forward with the referendum will be a test of the KRG’s relationship with Ankara.

Erdogan also fears that if Iraqi Kurds gain independence, this will create a ripple effect in which Kurds in other parts of the Middle East, especially Turkey, will be further empowered in their ongoing fight for independence.

Both Turkey and Iraq agree that the referendum is unconstitutional; Turkey also said that the results will be “null and void.”

The central government of Baghdad is firmly against the potential partition of Iraq. The city of Kirkuk in Northern Iraq, where clashes have already occurred, is particularly contentious as it produces a quarter of the region’s oil. If independence is gained, Kirkuk will fall right between the two regions.

In further retaliation, Baghdad asked foreign countries to stop oil trade with the Kurdish region. On Sunday, it also asked KRG to hand over international borders and international airports.

On Monday, at the request of Baghdad, Iran closed its borders with the Kurdish region of Iraq. Both land crossings and airspace entry into Iran remain shut.

Heat from the West

The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) warned that the referendum will have a “potentially destabilizing impact.”

In an effort to stop the referendum, the U.S. state department said that diplomatic aid for the Kurdish-Iraqi region could be cut off if voting goes ahead. The department said that while it respects the Kurds’ aspiration for independence, it sees it as untimely since the fight against the Islamic State (IS) is still ongoing. Kurdistan’s peshmerga fighters — meaning “those who face death” — have been helping the U.S. and are its most reliable ally.

Barzani, however, said that the referendum will not affect the fight against the Islamic State.

The U.S., though, faced a tricky situation when Paul Manafort, President Donald J. Trump’s former campaign manager, was hired to help with the Kurdish referendum. Manafort has had a lucrative career advising foreign clients and was hired “to assist in the referendum and in the aftermath of the referendum”, as reported by the New York Times.

Independence from Iraq

The Iraqi Kurds live in a semi-autonomous region where they have their own government, laws, language, and culture, but this wasn’t always the case.

Historical grievances resulting from a long and complicated history with Iraq fuels the fight for independence.

Kurdish people have suffered attacks from Iraqis under the presidency of Saddam Hussein in the late 1980s, which included chemical attacks, genocide, and mass displacements. They gained their semi-autonomous region after Saddam Hussein withdrew his forces at the end of the 1991 uprisings in Iraq.

President Masoud Barzani told the Guardian that Iraq is “a theocratic, sectarian state. We have our geography, land, and culture. We have our own language. We refuse to be subordinates.”


Israel is the only country that has come out strongly in favor of the vote. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the Kurdish referendum as “legitimate” and has even said he supports the establishment of a Kurdish state.

Though independence won’t be triggered if the majority vote is yes, it gives President Masoud Barzani a legitimate mandate for negotiating power with Baghdad.

Started by

United Kingdom
Linh is a staff journalist at WikiTribune with a background in the humanities. She covers the Middle East, Asia, conflict and technology. Though based in London, she has freelanced across Asia, the UK and U.S.

History for stories "Kurds vote on independence from Iraq"

Select two items to compare revisions

24 April 2018

• (view) . . Comment: Difficulty verifying chemical attack amplified by pro-Assad misinformation‎; 15:32:19, 24 Apr 2018 . . Michael Ivanov (talk | contribs)‎‎ ( Comment -> Hi Jack, thanks for your reply (really - I do realize my comment was a bit harsh, so thanks for staying professional). It's just that it really doesn't feel like fact-based reporting when it's based on opinions and it's difficult to rewrite/edit an article like that. The community model might be a good option to consider indeed, as sometimes it's just diffifcult for any of us to see the full spectrum of views and data available on a certain subject, so having all the info before the article is finished could be helpful. In any case, I'd still ask to avoid building articles on opinions, whoever those opinions belong to (they may appear as a part of the article, but not comprise the main part of it, I believe), especially when they are not official representatives of one side or the other. There's just too much speculation in this. )

21 December 2017

29 October 2017

09:11:30, 29 Oct 2017 . .‎ Burhan Wazir (Updated → Editing)

Talk for Story "Kurds vote on independence from Iraq"

Talk about this Story

  1. Rewrite

    Hi, is there a chance we can update this story to reflect that the vote took place (now two days ago) with 93 percent favoring independence?

    1. Rewrite

      Hi Peter, very good point. This is the sort of question we’ll be expecting a lot from the community. I put up an update on the piece, let me know what you think?

      How else do you suppose we could do it? Since this was a developing story, we may in the future lock stories like these and update the information with a new piece of news, as we have done in the current briefing. Cheers.

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