In the after math of the September 2017 Kurdish independence referendum, Prime Minister Haidar Abadi demanded that the Kurds relinquish control of the areas it occupied in Kirkuk during the summer of 2014. To try to give perspective to this shocking series of events are several experts giving their personal views.
Lukman Faily is the former Iraqi Ambassador to the United States and Japan. He can be followed on Twitter @FailyLukman
Following the liberation of Daesh, Iraqis faced a new challenge which was how to deal with the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) request for implementation of an independent Referendum for Kurdistan which was illegal and not within the boundaries of the Iraqi constitution that the Kurds themselves played a key role in its formation and thereafter participated at the high levels within the various Iraqi cabinets and central government posts.
On September 25th, 2017, the Referendum took place but Baghdad ignored its results and requested that KRG leadership renounce it as void. Baghdad’s calls were ignored and hence PM Abadi felt obliged (due to public and legal pressure) to deal firmly with the new separatist approach by the KRG. No real dialogue to resolve the issue is possible until the KRG declares the Referendum as a mistake. Here Baghdad feels it has the legal mandate, popular support, regional and international support to deal firmly with the separatist move by the Kurdish leadership. The Kirkuk military operation and its return to the central government’s control is one manifestation of this. Kirkuk was always a contentious issue; it is now firmly under GOI control. However, it does require very delicate and careful management. Its cosmopolitan nature can always be a good acid test as how one can manage multilateral communities. Following Kirkuk GOI will perform other actions to bring back under control all federal entities (such as airports and borders) and facilities (including offices and oil fields).
As to the whole Referendum chapter, what we see is a clear example where the political leadership (Sunni/Shia/Kurds and others) have not been able to resolve some of the core challenges they have been facing since 2003. These challenges relate to utilizing dialogue as the only method for solving their many disputes.
Iraq has many challenges which many have not been addressed yet. To address them peacefully, substantial change in political culture, constitutional reforms and good governance need to take place. Even if the government can find some solutions to these new crises, the underlying challenges in relation to political and social harmony requires much more soul searching by all stakeholders who instigated a needless Referendum in which Kurds will feel its consequences for some time to come.
The upcoming general election in mid-2018 should provide a new lease of life to a political process which has been unable to deliver results to its various constituents. Democracy is what people are trying to practice, better governance and services is what they expect in return. What we saw in the aftermath of the Referendum is a wrong process for democracy-in-action.