Is the referendum on Kurdish independence a spark in a powder keg?

Is the referendum on Kurdish independence a spark in a powder keg?

GRI Debate: Will the independence referendum in Kurdistan further destabilize Iraq and the region?

Kurdish authorities announced on Wednesday that Iraqi Kurds overwhelmingly voted in favour of a split from Iraq, with 92.7 percent of the electorate casting their vote in support of Kurdistan’s independence. A war of words has already begun between Erbil and Baghdad. GRI asked two of its top experts: will we see an escalation?

The case for a real risk of armed conflict

Peshmerga on a T-55 Tank outside Kirkuk

Anas Abdoun argues that geopolitical pressures, centred on the oil resources in Kirkuk, could boil over following the vote.

“Bringing Kirkuk under full control is vital for the Iraqi central government. Iraq is still a divided and failed state and desperately needs to keep control of the resource-rich area to try and consolidate the country’s unity. On the other hand, Kurdistan also needs Kirkuk, as it cannot achieve real independence without the economic resources to do so. This catch-22 situation could light the spark in a region which is already a powder keg.”

Read the full article here. For another GRI view on how secession would breed instability, check out this piece.

The case for negotiated gains by the Kurdish government

KRG President Masoud Barzani

Leo Kabouche argues that at least in the short term, the Kurdish government is unlikely to aggressively pursue secession.

“The independence referendum will probably be part of a wider strategy to gain concessions from the central government. The KRG will likely use the referendum as political leverage to cement its autonomous status over several critical issues, such as oil rights, a share of the federal budget, and the disputed territories. In the short term, the victory of the yes’ camp will consolidate President Barzani’s political capital, leading him to attempt to extend his rule over the region.”

Read the full article here. For an in-depth look at the dispute over oil rights, Leo’s backgrounder is here.

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