The Kurdish independence referendum caused unnecessary confusion both within the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) and abroad. Those at home felt betrayed thinking the referendum would directly result in independence, this being the reason they voted YES. Regional actors responded as if the referendum, a mere survey, was a declaration of independence in itself.
The referendum was held, it did not bring Kurdistan independence, nor did it make it stronger.
With that said, what are the next steps for Kurdistan?
Despite the continued chest-beating by Iran and Turkey, the Kurdish leadership should remain focused on solving its internal issues while pushing for dialogue with Baghdad. The Kurdish people have submitted themselves to the cause and have set aside their differences for the sake of a referendum. This being said, reality cannot be ignored. During the summer, Barzani clearly stated he will step down as president, keeping in tandem with previously made promises. His term has been expired since 2013, and expired again in 2015.
Both parliamentary and presidential elections are supposedly to be held in November, but talks of delay are already spreading.
Looking back, senior assistant to Masoud Barzani, Hemin Hawrami, tweeted on July 19th 2017 along with the signed documents by President Barzani, “decree for the Parliament and Presidential elections to be held on November 1st, 2017. No excuse for postponement.” He also tweeted earlier that “KDP is never ever with the postponement of Kurdistan parliament and presidential elections in November 2017.”
However, this is in contradiction to rumors. Sadi Pire, a member of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) third largest party stated that “it is possible that the current government’s mandate will be extended for another year.” The reason is due to the chaotic situation that has occurred post-referendum.
This means that Barzani is intentionally attempting to keep his position as president. He is aiming to use the situation in the KRI as an excuse to extend his term once again.
The last day to register candidates for the presidential elections was October 3rd 2017. There has only been one individual to do so, and it was a Gorran (Change) party member. This is clearly an indication of delay to the upcoming elections. The referendum was not a mandate to extend Barzani’s position, nor was it to ignore internal disputes. Barzani remains to be an illegal president clinging to power through political stunts ignored by his constituency and diaspora.
The large-scale corruption seen within the KRG has already given birth to two new political parties. The first by Dr. Barham Salih, former second deputy for the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, who registered his political party as the “Alliance for Democracy and Justice.” The second by billionaire and head of the no campaign against the independence referendum under the banner ‘No for Now’, Shaswar Abdulwahid, the party is called New Generation.
These parties should be welcomed, they provide an alternative to the nepotistic and corrupt-ridden KDP-PUK. A recent example, Gorran released a document which exposed that over $1billion in oil sales in September 2017 was unaccounted for. Two simple questions follow, where did this money go and why are Kurds silent? Calling for a state does not end simply by voting “yes” on a ballot, it requires a deep look into the realities within our failed leadership. Kurds must fully engage and hold accountable those at the top, there are no excuses for postponing presidential and parliamentary elections. There are no excuses for Barzani to cling to power. Although the KRG leadership may never admit it, internal complications within their government was a significant reason why the United States failed to back the Kurdish independence referendum – they know the KDP-PUK all too well.
The Kurdistan Region of Iraq requires top down reform. If the leadership aims for the backing of the international community, they must prove they are different than Iraq. This begins with internal reconstruction.
The next steps for the KRI should be the following:
-Attempt to stick to legal date of November 1, 2017 for presidential and parliamentary elections.
-If unable to organize by set date, interim president should be decided on through current parliament.
-Current parliament should decide official date for elections beyond November 1.
Originally published at NRT English on October 16, 2017.