By Patrick Brogan
In scenes that many in Catalunya hope will be mirrored in their region, the Iraqi Kurds are holding a referendum on whether they should break away from Baghdad and Iraqi rule. Currently, three regions in the north of Iraq are under the semi-autonomous jurisdiction of Kurdistan.
The Kurdish people make up nearly a fifth of the Iraqi population and their association with this land goes back centuries. In 1991, the region was granted semi-autonomous status. The Kurds have had a checkered history within Iraq. They suffered brutal treatment under Saddam Hussein’s regime, including the chemical attacks in Halabja which took the lives of over 5,000 people. The Kurds mainly reside in the areas of Ibril, Suleymana, Kirkuk and Kohuk in northern Iraq.
The current Prime Minister of Iraq, Haider al-Abadi, is opposed to this referendum. He called it unconstitutional. The international community is also against it as it fears a further destabilisation of the region, and Iran took the move of closing its border with the region earlier today. The Kurds have been embroiled in a war with the so-called Islamic State and have had many victories against them.
An independent Kurdistan has long been a dream for the Kurdish people. They are the fourth largest ethnic group in the Middle East, but attempts to establish their own nation-state have been scuppered on numerous occasions. Originally, plans were drawn up in the post-World War I period as the Ottoman Empire collapsed and a country for the Kurds was set out, but, when it came to the crunch Turkey was extended into this region. A Greater Kurdistan spreads from Turkey and on into Iraq and Iran in the east, Armenia in the north and Syria to the south.
The Iraqi-Kurdish regions are rich in oil, particularly Kirkuk, which produces 400,000 barrels a day. The division of Iraq would see it slip down the OPEC peaking order and lose ground to neighbouring Iran.
This referendum will not lead directly to independence, that may be some way down the line yet. However, this is important because the Kurds are a large group with a shared culture and language that have long suffered abuse. If the oil community accepts this, it just may be a possibility. By any measurement, Kurdistan should be a long established country, but, as usual, politics got in the way.
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