Hundreds of thousands of refugees - Christians, Muslims and Yazidis-escaped from the Islamic State have been sheltering in the region. The area is rich in oil and natural gas and has long been contended between local authorities and central government. Turkey, Syria and Iran against the project for fear of internal secessions.
Erbil (AsiaNews / Agencies) - The autonomous Kurdistan region will hold a referendum on September 25th to decide on independence from Baghdad and the creation of an autonomous territorial entity. The Kurdish leaders in Erbil yesterday announced the vote despite the vast front opposition to dividing Iraq.
Over the years, hundreds of thousands of Christians have been sheltered in the region, as well as Muslims and Yazidis who fled Nineveh's plain after the arrival of the Islamic State.
The Kurdistan Presidency office issued a note confirming that "September 25, 2017 is the date for the independence referendum". The Iraqi Kurdistan region is formed by three provinces, which are entrusted with the guidance of a regional autonomous government and protected by local security forces.
Independent self-government has a large consensus among the local population but is opposed by most of the country and the international community because it could undermine the nation's instability.
The statement issued by the Kurdish regional presidency reminds one of the most controversial issues related to independence, saying that the referendum will be held "in the Kurdistan region and in Kurdistan areas not controlled by local government". The reference is to the northern territories claimed by both Kurdistan and Baghdad, rich in oil and natural gas. Among them is the area of Kirkuk, now mostly under the control of Peshmerga.
In recent times, both Baghdad and the Kurdish region are undergoing a profound economic and financial crisis, heightened by the collapse of oil prices; In fact, the proceeds from the sale of crude represent the vast majority of revenue.
In addition, despite a large movement favoring Kurdish independence, Iraqi Kurds are divided in their entirety; Splits and contrasts that risk paralyzing the unborn state immediately.
Adding to this is the opposition of some regional powers: Turkey, Syria and Iran have a large internal Kurdish community and are against the birth of a Kurdish independent entity, fearing – above all Ankara - that it can feed secessionists .
Other critical and opposing voices to the country's division include the Chaldean Church, which has long worked for the unity of Iraq in the face of internal problems and external threats (including the Islamic State). The opposition of the patriarchate is not just about the self-governing of the Kurds, but also the projects powered by some Christian groups which could lead to the creation of a "Christian ghetto" on the Nineveh plain.
The President of Iraqi Kurdistan confirms his intention to go to the polls and to battle for the future of Kirkuk. The city must be a "symbol of coexistence of all ethnicities". The "Yes" victory does not automatically involve the declaration of independence, but will strengthen negotiations with the central government.
The supreme court intends to examine the appeals received on the vote. At the heart of the dispute is the "constitutionality" of the referendum. A Kurdish delegation waits in Baghdad for an official meeting. Concern among world news agencies: the vote is likely to weaken the Arab-Kurdish anti-Isis alliance and trigger a new internal conflict.
As referendum day, 25 September, approaches tensions between Erbil and Baghdad rise. Mar Sako calls on "moderate" voices to defuse tensions. A new military confrontation would have "disastrous" consequences. Minorities are growing fearful. Source tells AsiaNews that “the situation is even more delicate”.
The vote could fuel fresh sectarian clashes. For some time, the Kurds have aspired to an independent state, but several of the region’s states (Syria, Iraq and, above all, Turkey) opposed the plan. Kurds have been used in regional wars, and now intend to decide their destiny. The US and Israel play a role. For Barzani, Baghdad is not a partner but could be a "good neighbour".