Kurdistan a state, to be or not to be?


Sep 2017


One cannot escape from the question of the status of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) relationship with the Government of Iraq (GOI) in Baghdad, is it a one of a state to state, or a province to state, or in transition and fluidity? The jury is still out on the status end game, and as for commerce and security will there be ramifications for these new developments?

The KRG government have made their mind to set up their own new state and to challenge the post WW1 Sykes–Picot Agreement regional state architecture. The statesmen of KRG have now decided to go through a painful process of preforming a referendum for independence and thereafter seeking local, regional and international approval for this new state. The expected result of the referendum is not in question, there will be overwhelming support for the Kurds to form their new independent state. Where it is conducted (in and outside the KRG formal area of control) and its legality are the main two questions which the GOI is refusing to agree with. From its side, GOI is declaring this referendum is void and not constitutional, on the other hand the KRG officials are not conforming themselves to the post 2005 constitution which they played a key part in forming.

Local, regional and international (including EU and UN) stakeholders are now trying to bring down tension by proposing, via various direct and indirect, mediation to the postponement of the planned referendum for a year or two. There are several reasons for their involvement, not least the ramification of forming a new state in a fragile region which is going through a tremendous period in its post Daesh and Arab Spring chapters. Neighbouring countries to Iraq fear that such a new state will have a direct impact on their own national security understanding, more so with their own Kurdish and other minorities’ aspirations. On the other hand, international stakeholders including the UK, France, the EU and the USA are concerned about the ability of the Iraqi and KRG government to focus on the defeat of Daesh while they are on the defense and towns and cities are being liberated due to their cooperation.

Apart from this referendum, and hence independence, both sides face many challenges on economic, political, security and social fronts. Can they cope with addressing such deep and wide ranging issues while their limited energy is being consumed on this serious challenge of the unity of Iraq? One would wish for serious political development not to take place so that stability is the norm, but one also knows that the Middle East is a region which is going through tremendous transformation and hence such development is to be expected.

The end game for this KRG vs GOI relationship is not defined yet and there are many factors and players who will seek to influence and form this end game while trying to keep the focus on the fight against international terrorism as a priority.