by WorldTribune Staff, June 9, 2017
Iraq’s self-governing Kurdish region announced on June 7 it will hold a referendum on independence, a move opposed by the nation’s ruling Shi’ite coalition.
“I am pleased to announce that the date for the independence referendum has been set for Monday, Sept. 25, 2017,” Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani said on Twitter.
The Kurds said the referendum will include disputed areas claimed by Kurdistan, but not recognized as part of the autonomous region by the central government, Barzani aide Hemin Hawrami said.
Hawrami said the question put to voters would be “do you want an independent Kurdistan?”
The president of Iraq’s ruling Shi’ite coalition told Reuters in April it would oppose a Kurdish referendum. Ammar al-Hakim especially warned the Kurds against any move to annex oil-rich Kirkuk.
In 2014, Kurdish Peshmerga forces prevented Islamic State (ISIS) from capturing Kirkuk after the Iraqi army fled in the face of the militants. Sine the, the Kurds have been effectively running the region, also claimed by Turkmen and Arabs.
The Kurds are playing a major role in the U.S.-backed campaign to defeat ISIS.
Kurdistan is recognized as a self-governing autonomous region within Iraq by the nation’s 2005 constitution. The precise boundaries of autonomous Kurdistan are disputed, however.
The Iraqi central government has opposed broadening Kurdistan’s recognized boundaries, and insisted that the area remain under Iraqi sovereign control.
Kurds are expected to strongly back independence, but the referendum is unlikely to automatically translate to a sovereign Kurdistan separate from Iraq, observers say, although a resounding “yes” vote “would provide independence advocates a powerful mandate in their negotiations with the central government.”
Iraq’s majority Shi’ite Arab community mainly live in the south while the Kurds and the Sunni Arabs inhabit different areas of the north. The center around Baghdad is mixed.
Iraq has been led by Shi’ites since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, a Sunni, by the U.S.-led invasion of 2003.