Does the Kurdish vote spell the end of Iraq?

Kurds in northern Iraq have reportedly voted by an overwhelming majority in favour of an independent Kurdish state. The electoral commission puts the number of those for independence at 91.8 percent. The results are not binding but give Kurdish President Barzani a mandate for negotiations with Baghdad. In any event the vote cannot be ignored, journalists comment, some of whom already see Iraq breaking up into three separate entities.

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Tages-Anzeiger (CH) /

Ignoring referendum not a solution

The Iraqi Kurds have made their will patently clear to the world, the Tages-Anzeiger explains:

“President Masoud Barzani secured a mandate for negotiations in which he now wants to push through something no one was ready to support before the referendum: secession from Iraq ending in an independent state. He can hardly make do with anything less now. ... It will take a lot of creativity to find solutions which everyone, including the neighbour states, can live with. A loose confederation would preserve Iraq's unity and give the Kurds more independence. At any rate ignoring the referendum certainly won't solve Iraq's problems.”

Cyprus Mail (CY) /

A dreadful waste

After the US's decades-long war in Iraq the referendum exposes the fact that the state effectively no longer exists, Peter Van Buren of Reuters news agency writes in the Cyprus Mail:

“[I]n practice 'Iraq' no longer exists. In its place is a Shiite state dominated by Iran, the de facto new nation of Kurdistan, and a shrinking population of Sunnis tottering between annihilation or reservation-like existence. ... The waste comes in that a better version of a de facto tri-state Iraq was available in 2006. Every life lost (out of a million some, including 4,424 Americans), every dollar spent (in the trillions), and every unanticipated outcome suffered (rise of Islamic State, conflict in Syria, de-democratization of Turkey) since then has been unnecessary.”

Politiken (DK) /

Give negotiations a chance

Politiken hopes for constructive negotiations between the Iraqi state and the Kurds:

“The vote marked the starting point for years of negotiations with Baghdad. Both the Kurds and the Iraqi Arabs should realise that they are dependent on each other: they must reach a consensus on things like drinking water, oil wells and trade, and need domestic and military stabilisation. Regardless of the results the referendum also represents a call for negotiations, for more flexibility and reconciliation. ... The best thing Nato member Turkey and the Arab League can do now is to support the negotiations so that the outcome - Kurdish independence or continued self-administration - is accompanied by mutual assurances, trade agreements and conciliation instead of military confrontation.”

Daily Sabah (TR) /

Will the fight for oil lead to new conflicts?

The referendum is part of the fight for the oil reserves in the region, Daily Sabah comments:

“The KRG [Kurdistan Regional Government] currently controls 20 percent of the oil resources of Iraq, OPEC's second-biggest oil producer. If the KRG declares independence within the borders that the KRG held the referendum, it would be among the top-10 largest oil producers in OPEC, which would make it an important player in the oil market, even if the disputed areas are excluded. But would this be achieved without spilling more blood? ... Ever since the beginning of the fight against Daesh, it was obvious that the question was who would take control of these territories and if it would pave the way for a new conflict in Iraq. And it looks like Barzani has been quick to make the first move.”

Latvijas Avize (LV) /

Kurds deserve independence

Latvijas avīze feels reminded of the Latvians' fight for independence:

“When a nation wants to form an independent state it deserves to do so, and sooner or later it will achieve its goal. A nation that fights for decades with weapons for its right to speak its mother tongue and to listen to its music in cafés unimpeded will seize any opportunity to achieve internationally recognised independence. There are parallels with Latvia here. The Kurds, who enjoy a certain autonomy in Iraq, have taken similar action to the Latvians on 3 March 1991. The Latvians also voted in a referendum on the question: 'Are you for a democratic and independent Latvia?' Seventy-four percent voted in favour. Six months later Latvia was independent. Why shouldn't the Kurds enjoy the same happiness?”

Delo (SI) /

No great expectations

The Kurdish leader Barzani has managed to unite Iraqi Kurdistan's society which has always been divided along political and clan lines, Delo observes:

“The main factor behind this unity is that the president of what is still Iraqi Kurdistan has set a two-year period for the secession process. The people here are used to war and other dreadful events and have learned that great expectations signal a lack of understanding of time and space. They voted, on a wave of patriotism and opposition, in the knowledge that tomorrow will be a new day. A day that could bring war. A day that could also be unmerciful to a peaceful Kurdistan - a geographically, politically, strategically and above all economically very vulnerable Kurdistan that will be almost entirely dependent on the price of oil.”

The Daily Telegraph (GB) /

Kurds alienating their allies

The Kurdish regional government's aggressive drive for independence will cost it its crucial international support, The Daily Telegraph warns:

“Already it is stoking ethnic tensions, and already there are early indicators of the sort of violence that might be caused if the KRG's sledgehammer approach to independence continues. Alienating just about every international supporter of the Kurds will leave a fledgling economy without the investment it so desperately craves, and without the trade it is convinced it will inherit. Furthermore, the Peshmerga, the Kurdish militia who have contributed to the fight against Isil, have been hugely reliant on international support - for training, arms, and airstrikes.”

La Repubblica (IT) /

A foreseeable development

The West shouldn't be surprised by Barzani's course after giving the Kurds the weapons they need to become an autonomous state, La Repubblica comments:

“No one in Europe's chancelleries or on the other side of the Atlantic can seriously claim that they armed the Kurds for the fight against the Islamic State and didn't think of what would come after. Years ago Time Magazine - when it was thinking of designating Barzani its 'Man of the Year' - described him as an 'opportunist'. And as Europe was filling his arsenals to stop the Islamic State, the German press commented ironically that the expiry date on the weapons being sent to Erbil shouldn't be long off because otherwise they could be used to upset the balance in the Middle East once the era of [IS leader] al-Baghdadi had come to an end.”

Le Monde (FR) /

No one supports the referendum

The Iraqi Kurds have managed to alienate just about everybody with their referendum initiative, Le Monde notes:

“Everyone is against the vote. The central government in Baghdad, which has rightly observed that it runs counter to the federal constitution which a majority of Iraqis voted for in 2005. But also the Kurds' Western friends, starting with the United States, who don't want to see Iraq further weakened as it tries to rebuild itself. The Russians are also hardly enthusiastic. And the neighbours of the Iraqi Kurds - Turkey and Iran - who have supported them until now and on whom they are very dependent - have clearly spoken out against the referendum.”

Diken (TR) /

Turkey should do more for Kurds at home

The Turks should focus on human rights in their own country instead of fighting against the Kurds abroad, writes Diken:

“If the Kurds want to establish their own state that's their business, not ours. Because what matters for us is our country. ... Turkey shouldn't waste its energy on fighting with the Kurds outside the country or with its neighbours. It should use it for its own Kurds, and naturally to strengthen social cohesion and offer all Turkish society a dignified life. It must try to reduce the impact of negative influence of events abroad to a minimum by ensuring harmony, security and equal living standards for all here at home.”

Kathimerini (GR) /

The timing will never be perfect

Despite the difficulties the general state of affairs is propitious for a referendum, Kathimerini comments:

“The hell let loose by the Islamic State has elevated the Kurdish forces to a special role. Their victims and successes should not be ignored. Thanks to the unrest the Kurds were able to take control of Kirkuk. They regard Kirkuk as their capital. But Kirkuk is also the scene of great tensions because the city has abundant oil resources and is inhabited by many Arabs and Turkmens. For Barzani it would perhaps be a wise step to ensure that negotiations on these issues take place after the referendum. What Barzani shouldn't do is wait for a better moment. The circumstances are never perfect. If they were, there wouldn't be any need for revolutions.”

News.bg (BG) /

EU should stand up for the Kurds

It is in Europe's interest to support the planned referendum and the construction of a Kurdish state, News.bg argues:

“For the most part the Kurds have a secular orientation. And Europe needs secular allies in the Middle East to be able to push through its own agenda. Against a backdrop of religious conflicts that are destroying the entire region, a secularised, friendly axis between Tel Aviv and Erbil would be in Europe's interests. That doesn't necessarily mean this axis would be democratic. But in view of the chaos in the Middle East Europe must behave pragmatically - egoistically even - rather than idealistically.”

Akşam (TR) /

A risky undertaking

In Akşam's view Barzani is playing with fire and may end up losing everything:

“This is not an everyday undertaking. It's about changing the borders of a state. If Barzani insists on his current position and introduces steps that would divide Iraq he could soon end up isolated and under attack like Assad. Barzani has been cornered on the domestic front. ... This may be why he plunged into this 'independence' adventure in the first place. But his project is no easy undertaking. In trying to control Kirkuk he may lose both it and Erbil. ... For Assad, too, everything changed overnight. If a civil war breaks out there will be no going back. Then it really will be impossible to retain control of the situation.”

Delo (SI) /

Kurdish president's dishonest intentions

Delo sees the referendum as part of a selfish plan by the President of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region Masoud Barzani:

“The reasons behind the referendum are by no means just political, social, state-supporting, aimed at securing the livelihood of the people or 'historical' - whereby all these reasons are absolutely legitimate. After five years of economic crisis in which the dream of becoming the 'Switzerland of the Middle East' has evaporated owing to low oil prices and numerous bad investments, it is to be feared that Barzani simply wants to secure the continuation of his ever more undemocratic rule. The parliament in Erbil has been inactive for two years now. And it's a long time since the last elections were held.”

Hürriyet Daily News (TR) /

Ankara must keep a cool head

Devlet Bahçeli, head of the Turkish right-wing nationalist opposition party MHP, has said that the referendum is reason enough for Ankara to start a war. He should think twice before making such threats, Hürriyet Daily News admonishes:

“Can Turkey prevent such a referendum? Unfortunately, not. Can Turkey indeed declare war on Iraqi Kurds because they had participated in a popular vote, accepting or rejecting statehood? We might be happy or unhappy with the Kurds of Iraq having such a referendum, but it is none of Turkey's business to intervene or even to say a further word on it, than taking its own defensive measures if such a development might pose a threat to Turkey's own security. ... Turkey's best interests is not in using 'casus belli' challenges to its neighbors, but in normalization of ties that will indeed help as well as restore normalcy with our neighbors.”

Evrensel (TR) /

Democratic path to self-determination

The Kurds' referendum is in accordance with human rights, Evrensel stresses:

“It's generally recognised that a people's right to self-determination regarding its future cannot be pushed through by force or violence, and that our international system wouldn't accept such a thing either. For this reason referendums are a democratic approach that has been made use of in Spain, Scotland and other democratic states around the world. The key aspect, however, is that violent measures are unacceptable.”