“The United States does not support the Kurdistan Regional Government’s intention to hold a referendum later this month,” the White House said, claiming that the vote would distract from the joint Kurdish-U.S. fight to defeat Islamic State and stabilize liberated areas in Iraq and Syria. “Holding the referendum in disputed areas is particularly provocative and destabilizing,” the statement said, referring to Kirkuk and other cities outside the KRG territory recognized by Baghdad that have substantial Kurdish populations.
“Referendum is a tool, not an objective. The objective is independence,” Kurdish Regional Government President Masoud Barzani told 20,000 cheering independence supporters wearing the green, red, white and yellow colors of Kurdistan’s flag in the Zakho international soccer stadium Sept. 14.
Hours before the rally Barzani met with representatives from Washington, London and the United Nations who pressed him to cancel or at least postpone the vote because it’s “not the right time” and instead consider an “alternative” they presented. Barzani told the crowd they would look the proposal over, but if their “objective is to just delay the referendum, the referendum will not be postponed.”
The imperialist rulers’ alternative proposal included pushing the referendum back two years “until a meeting in the United Nations discusses the Iraqi file, including the Kurdistan Region and the independence referendum.”
Rallies have taken place in other Kurdistan cities, as well as in Brussels, New York, London, Beirut and Washington, D.C.
Some 6 million Kurds and other nationalities living in the Kurdish region in northeastern Iraq — including those living in territory contested by the Iraqi government — are eligible to vote. The most hotly contested area is Kirkuk, where Baghdad lays claim to the oil-rich province. Hundreds of thousands of Kurds living in some 50 countries around the world can cast a vote by email.
Kurds, supporters of their right to their own state, and bitter opponents like the capitalist rulers in Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey expect a vote for independence would pass overwhelmingly. The Kurds propose that following the referendum negotiations take place with Baghdad and other governments in the region on how to carry out the decision in an orderly and peaceful manner.
Centuries of struggle and betrayals
Washington’s arrogant and condescending demand that the Kurds put off their vote reflects the longstanding hostility of the U.S. capitalist rulers to the struggle of the over 30 million Kurds for their own state.
From the seventh century on, Kurds have resisted all efforts to subjugate them or wipe out their language and culture. They were denied a homeland, despite promises, in the post-World War I imperialist carve-up of the Middle East by the British and French rulers. They have continued to face efforts by the capitalist rulers in the region — with the complicity of Washington and other imperialist powers — to deny them self-determination.
Since World War II tens of thousands of Kurds have been massacred, jailed and uprooted. Time and again the Kurds have been betrayed and used as bargaining chips and cannon fodder by Washington, Moscow and competing Mideast rulers protecting their own interests in the region.
Over the past 30 years the Kurds have been able to take advantage of the political and military space opened up for their struggle as the imperialist order in the Middle East has begun to unravel. This process — reflected in the ongoing wars in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Afghanistan that Washington is unable to win — is rooted in the fact that U.S. imperialism lost the Cold War.
When the Stalinist police state governments in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe imploded in the 1990s, Washington lost the central power it relied upon to control and suppress revolutionary movements of working people, including in the Middle East.
The combination of a weakened U.S. imperialism, the impact of the unending world capitalist economic crisis, and the coming apart of Iraq and Syria in ongoing wars and factional battles between Shiite and Sunni, has given the Kurds a historic opportunity to advance their struggle.
They have established Kurdish-controlled autonomous regions in both Iraq and northern Syria. And they have forged impressive fighting forces — the peshmerga in Iraq and the People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Syria — that have been most effective in taking on the reactionary Islamic State in both countries.
Washington has been forced to rely on the two Kurdish forces to battle IS and seeks to counter Tehran’s moves to establish a contiguous land route it can control from Afghanistan through Iran, Iraq and Syria to the Mediterranean.
Kurds feared by capitalist rulers
The capitalist rulers in Ankara, Baghdad, Tehran and Damascus — which sit on some 15 million, 6 million, 8 million and 2 million Kurds respectively — all live in fear of their Kurdish populations winning independence.
If the Kurds “eventually break away from Baghdad, it would be the most significant redrawing of borders within the Middle East since the creation of Israel in 1948,” said Daily Sabah, the pro-government Turkish newspaper and opponent of the referendum. “It will split Iraq, tearing away a Switzerland-sized chunk, including key oil resources, leaving the remainder with an Arab population split between a Shiite Muslim majority and Sunni minority.”
“We have to ramp up our efforts to prevent the referendum and independence from happening,” said Hadi al-Amiri, secretary general of the Badr Organization, an important wing of the multiparty Shiite al-Shaabi paramilitary force. “Civil war” ignites when “complicated matters become out of control.”
Tehran-backed paramilitaries have conducted attacks on supporters of the Kurdish referendum in areas outside the KRG, especially in villages where the local council has voted to join in the vote.
The only government in the region that has declared its support for an independent Kurdistan is the Israeli government, which argues Kurdistan could become an island of stability in an unstable area and act as a political and military counterweight to Tehran’s growing influence.
Kurds press fight to vote on independence
Back Kurds right to self-determination!
Kurds in US rally for independent Kurdistan
Million march for Catalonia referendum
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