Since the beginning of the Arab spring, it has become apparent that borders in the Middle East are redrawn. The struggle for power and resources has also framed the Iraqi-Kurdish referendum for independence. In the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Hüseyin Çiçek comments on the backgrounds of the election.
For Çiçek, political scientist and scientific researcher at EZIRE, the Iraqi Kurds wish to achieve independence is more than understandable. The worldwide biggest minority without its own nation -state had repeatedly been the prey of repression and has experienced political, economic and cultural exclusion in its host states. In Iraq, Saddam Hussein even tried to enforce political obedience on the Kurds by means of chemical and biological weapons.
At the same time, Kurds in Iraq were a strong political force. The current Iraqi president of state, Fuad Masum, was Kurdish. Furthermore, from 2003 to 2015, the Iraqi military had been led by Kurdish Babaker Zebari. Northern Iraq was even governed autonomically from two power-splitting Kurdish parties. Keeping this share of power in mind, he current Kurdish call for independence was also surprising.
According to Çiçek, two factors can explain the Kurds’ strive for independence. First, the current president of Iraqi Kurdistan, Masud Barzani, was trying to widen his power with help of the referendum. He hoped for higher popularity and at the same time could point out the incapacity of the central government in Bagdad. However, it should not be underestimated that the Iraqi Kurds were also divided and not everybody was in favor of the referendum.
Following Çiçek, another factor explaining the timing of the referendum, was the instability of the Middle East region as a result of the Arab spring. Since the Kurds had proven strong political players in the fight against the so-called Islamic State, they now saw the opportunity to participate in the reshaping of the Middle East by drawing new borders.
Nevertheless, Çiçek rates the chances for success rather low: In times of instability, the existing nation states would not simply accept new actors in the struggle for power and resources. The Kurdish strive for independence could thus easily transform into a nightmare.