On the 25th September there will a referendum on Kurdish independence in Northern Iraq. The Kurds are the biggest ethnic group without their own state. There are 30 million Kurds in Northern Iraq, South East Turkey, North West Iran and Northern Syria. Since the 1880s Kurds have been seeking independence. The only place that Kurds have something resembling autonomy is in the Iraq’s oil region, Kirkuk. The Shi’ite-Arab-led government in Iraq do not approve of the vote.
Kurds are mostly a Sunni, non-Arab group of people and they are a minority in their countries. They make up 10% of the Syrian population, their largest minority, yet are denied rights such as their own political party. The first President of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, outlawed the use of the words “Kurd” and “Kurdistan”. Iraq’s 6 million Kurds have suffered the most brutal repression. Saddam Hussein carried out a genocidal campaign that killed 182,000. Now Iraq is home to the Kurdish Regional Government. They have an army and parliament but there is still friction with the Iraqi government. For example, in 2014 Baghdad withheld budget payments so the KRG began selling crude oil independently.
The Kurdish economy is struggling. This is largely to do with Baghdad’s withheld budget payments as well as their significant efforts fighting against ISIS. The referendum is opportunity for the KRG to draw attention to their discontent. It is possible that the referendum will serve to strengthen KRG members in the upcoming November elections. Regardless, the referendum is a way to legitimise their claim on the territory. The KRG have said they are in no rush but they want to show something to Baghdad. Unfortunately, the referendum could only serve to make tensions and frictions worse.