Washington Kurdish Institute
On Friday, July 28 the Washington Times and Kurdistan 24 news agency held a symposium on Kurdistan in the building of the House of Representatives Rayburn. The main topic discussed the upcoming Independence Referendum in Kurdistan region of Iraq on September 25, 2017. In addition, the panels also discussed the military affairs, the question of independence, the economics of Kurdistan and the status of the region for minorities. Speakers of the symposium were renowned authors, generals, Congressmen, Kurdish politicians, Non-Government Organization executives, and businessmen.
The second panel of the day was the one of greatest interest. The moderator was renowned journalist and author, Laurie Milroy Ph.D. The speakers of the panel were Dr. Najmaldin Karim who is the current Governor of Kirkuk province-Iraq, Amb. Peter Galbraith, Professor Brendan O’Leary, minority representative and parliamentarian Sheikh Shamo Naamo.
The symposium represented the Gettysburg for the Kurdistan Independence Referendum in the war for an autonomous Kurdistan. There was overwhelming support for the referendum from the panel. Governor Najmaldin Karim, a high ranking figure in the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) voiced confidence in the upcoming referendum supported by strong internal unity.” Every political party has expressed its intention and agreement on the referendum,” he noted in his remarks to Washington, DC decision makers, and thought leaders. Following his remarks, alternate political giant Masrour Barzani of the Kurdistan Democratic Party voiced strong agreement with the governor. Indeed, the political parties of the Kurdistan Region have bridged the great river of political disagreement, surpassing a coalition and have become cohesion.
That was surely the most important point of the panel. The strong internal support for the referendum means a guarantee. Other countries’ threats of force, demands for postponement and reversal of support were meant to create wide political rifts and instigate internal disorder. Instead, the Parliament will be reactivated after been polarized over internal political issues, increasing shows of democracy displaying the political maturity for which the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has become well known.
Another recurring message of the panel was the notion of the referendum being one step in a greater process for independence. The referendum, if successful, will not be a declaration of independence; that could take months or even years. There will be a long process of negotiations with Baghdad. This will include issues of oil rights, disputed territories, and military affairs.
Amb. Peter Galbraith suggested that there is a threat of Balkanization following the process of independence in Iraq, but that may very well is the bittersweet and destined future to the Middle East. In his former post as ambassador to Croatia, he witnessed the atrocities of the former Yugoslavia. “Once the referendum is held, the United States and everyone else will face a new reality, and they will adjust,” he said emphatically. The ambassador’s message was one repeated by generals and learned academics: the one Iraq policy is dead. The United States can either manage the problem or follow their previous agenda into a dominating Iranian future.
Amb. Peter Galbraith went on to cite the precedent that existed for states in the recent future becoming countries mostly through succession rather than the withdrawal from colonial superpowers. This has especially been the case with federal system based countries similar to Iraq. In the west, this notion has been accepted more than anywhere else. In the United Kingdom and Canada, there have been referendums for independence from regional sections of the central power. In the UK, Scotland turned down independence similar to Quebec in Canada.
Professor Brendan O’Leary Ph.D. reminded the audience that the leadership of the Kurdish Regional Government had tried to enter into a power sharing arrangement with the Iraqi central government and indeed held up their end of the bargain. The Baghdad government has not upheld their contractual obligations in regards to establishing a federation or giving the Kurdish Regional Government their share of the budget. He notes that the Constitution does not prohibit succession and that the mutual agreement of power sharing was consensual; leaving the relationship is a possibility, especially when a contract is broken. Due to the central government breaking the constitutional contract and the unwillingness of the central government to uphold Iraq as a confederation legitimize Kurdistan’s calls for democratic independence.
O’Leary addresses concerns over the question of timing. Many powers challenge Kurdistan’s choice of timing. There is, after all, an ongoing war, disputes over land and resources as well as greater regional instability. These externalities must be taken into account, but should not be allowed to curtail the collective liberty of people attempting to exercise that liberty. He concludes by quoting Cornford, “time is like the meddler [ fruit] for those of you who may not know he says it has a trick of going rotten before it is ripe.” There will not be a better time.
Sheikh Shamo Naamo concluded the panel and spoke from a place of passion with a calm governed by reason. His Yazidi background provided a unique perspective from which to view Kurdish independence. Through an interpreter, he praised the American people for their support and Peshmerga forces for their sacrifice. He outlined the history of Yazidi support for Kurdish independence despite Baathist and violent Arab reactions. He thanked President Barzani for his support of minority rights in the Kurdistan region in both a social and political realm. Despite scores of genocides on the Yazidi people, he is hopeful. He advocates for support of the referendum within his own Yazidi population and among the international community.
Ultimately, the panel outlined the complex status of political morality and minutia. The esteemed speakers resounded unanimity on the need for the referendum. There is historical precedent for the democratic process and a base of legal causality. Had Baghdad fulfilled contractual obligation set out in the agreed upon the Constitution, there would be a grand acceptance of federalism. If the Iraqi central government had upheld its end of the bargain, there would be no need for an independent Kurdistan. Governor Najmaldin Karim reminded the audience of the most important element of the referendum. The referendum for independence is both binary and causal. A referendum will be held, and if it passes, there will eventually be an independent state. “The referendum is being held. It’s a very simple thing. It says independence: yes or no. And that’s it.”