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Published On: Tue, Sep 12th, 2017

Iraqi parliament votes to take measures against Kurdistan independence referendum

nsnbc : The federal parliament of Iraq in Baghdad rejected the Kurdistan Autonomous Region’s (KAR) independence referendum in a vote on Tuesday, authorizing the prime minister to also take measures against the referendum. The referendum issue was put on the agenda upon the call of 80 MPs.

Baghdad_Iraq_entrance to Iraq parliament entrance_Sep 2017The move is another, and significant escalation in the dispute between the primarily Shiite federal parliament and government in Baghdad and the Kurdistan Autonomous Region (KAR) in as much as it authorized Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to “take any measures against the referendum scheduled for September 25″ and the process of holding the referendum in the Kurdistan Autonomous Region and/or in any other areas outside the region’s administration but under its control.

The decision by the Iraqi parliament stipulated that the Kurdistan referendum is a “threat” against the unity of Iraq and that while the Iraqi constitution allows a referendum on a number of issues, such as Article 140 to address the disputed areas, it maintained that the constitution does not include a section that permits a referendum on separation.

Iraqi MPs voted on three points.

First, they voted to reject the referendum that will take place in the Kurdistan Region and disputed areas, including Kirkuk, and to commit “all relevant authorities to take every measure to cancel it.”

Second, “the Iraqi government will be responsible for preserving the unity of Iraq, taking all measures and decisions that include the protection of the unity of Iraq.”

And third, they voted to commit “the Iraqi government and the Regional government to begin serious negotiations to solve outstanding issues based on the constitution and the laws in place.”

Sirwan Sereni, a Kurdish MP from the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) faction in the Iraqi parliament, in a conversation with the Rudaw news agency, stressed that the petition which was voted on and approved by the parliament contains “military measures” against the referendum. He said they were not consulted with or informed of the petition in the first place, and when a hearing given to the petition “we were not allowed to comment on it.”

Ashwaq Jaf, another Kurdish MP  from the KDP faction , accused Turkmen MPs of stirring the motion. All the Kurdish factions in the Iraqi parliament boycotted the vote. Jaf derided the parliament ruling saying “the decision will not go beyond the doors of parliament” and said that putting the matter on the agenda “violates the parliament’s bylaws.”

Baghdad has on several occasions rejected the Region’s independence referendum calling it “unconstitutional.” Despite mounting pressures, the Kurdistan Region is determined to hold the referendum as President Masoud Barzani has repeatedly stated in meetings with local players and international delegates.

Mohsen Rezaei_Iran_Expediency Discernment Council_Sep 2017Earlier this month Mohsen Rezaei, the head of Iran’s powerful Expediency Discernment Council, appointed by Iran’s Supreme Leader, warned Iraqi Kurds about the likelihood of a 20-year-long war and regional disintegration as a consequence of the Iraqi Kurdistan Autonomous Region’s plans to hold an independence referendum this month.

Also, in early September Qais al-Khazali, the leader of Iraq’s Shi’ite, Iranian-backed Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq of the Hashd al-Shaabi forces, threatened that should Kirkuk be attached to Iraq’s Kurdistan Region through the independence referendum, scheduled for September 25, Shi’ite forces will take military action against Kirkuk.

The threat of war against Kirkuk and Kurds by Qais al-Khazali, and by extension the Iranian proxy Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq of the Hashd al-Shaabi, didn’t come as a surprise for those who have observed the region and its regional and geopolitical rivalries. That said, the fact that the potential of a war between Shi´ite forces and Kurds has been known for some time  doesn’t make the conflict less dangerous.

Qais al-Khazali_IraqA war between the Hash al-Shaabi or some of its factions and Kurds will would arguably force the hands of the Iraqi Kurdistan Autonomous Region to support militant Iranian – Kurdish factions who are engaged in an insurgency in northwestern Iran already. How close to the boiling point tensions between Kurds and Iran already are was seen earlier this year when Iranian military lobbed artillery shells across the border into Iraq’s Kurdistan Autonomous Region to target Iraqi Kurdish militants there.

Kirkuk, oil and oil revenues are major factors in the dispute and the KAR justifies the referendum among others, by stressing that the federal government consistently and systematically violated its constitutional obligations. Moreover, the KAR also stressed that the referendum would not automatically lead to a declaration of independence but provide a mandate for negotiations with Baghdad.

That said, the fact that the referendum doesn’t necessarily lead to an automatic declaration of independence doesn’t make the situation less volatile and explosive. The Kurdistan Autonomous Region began exporting oil independently in 2015, saying it was forced to do so because Baghdad had stopped giving Erbil its 17 percent share of Iraq’s oil revenue. “This government has continued its lack of trust, beginning from the [Nouri] al-Maliki’s government up to now. They give some promises, make some political agreements and hold some meetings, but they (only) waste time. And this amounts to deception. That is why they bypass and stage a coup against the constitution,” Rebwar Talabani, acting head of Kirkuk Provincial Council, told reporters in August.

MUd_Oil_Water_SP_OCHowever, rivalries between Baghdad and Erbil / Kirkuk are not the only controversial issues. Following the invasion of Iraq by ISIS in 2013, the Kirkuk – Ceyhan pipeline was also used to launder the Islamic States oil, stolen in Syria, and make it available to international export markets. It is also worth noting that the European Union, in April 2013, lifted its embargo on the import of Syrian oil provided that it comes from “rebel-held territories” in Syria.

Those double-dealings set aside, Baghdad and Tehran had signed a memorandum of understanding on the exportation of Kirkuk oil to Iran in February. “But we have never allowed them to succeed (in these maneuvers). Remember, they wanted the amount of oil which OPEC decided to decrease, 50,000 to 60,000 were the share of Kirkuk which they wanted to send it to Mosul to reconstruct the city at the expense of Kirkuk. But we rejected that as the council and administration. The federal government then was obliged to send a delegation for discussions and negotiations and we imposed out conditions on them,” Talabani added.

Under an agreement between Erbil and Baghdad made last year, half of the revenues of sales of Kirkuk’s oil go to the Kurdistan Region. Two of its oil fields are under the control of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and three are run by Iraq’s North Oil Company (NOC). Even before the latest agreement was reached, Baghdad had been sending Kirkuk oil to other Iraqi provinces. The Kirkuk province, therefore, wants to file a lawsuit against the Iraqi oil ministry at the Federal Court. Almas Fazil, head of the legal committee in the Kirkuk  told reporters “It is true that oil is a national asset, but it has to be [dealt with] in coordination with the province. Unfortunately we have always complained and been critical of the agreements. Our only calls were the installation of a refinery to Kirkuk and an airport which were never created”.

In other measures slammed by Kirkuk authorities, Baghdad threatened in June to cut some 200 megawatts of power from Kirkuk’s national share to offset electricity shortages in other cities, most notably in war-torn Mosul. In protest against the Baghdad decree, Talabani in June responded that the Kirkuk administration also are willing to take strong measures against Baghdad either “by cutting off an electricity portion Kirkuk sends to Baghdad or stop sending oil to Dorra refinery in Baghdad.”

Kirkuk will take part in the referendum this September, deciding whether they want to remain with Iraq or join Kurdistan’s bid for independence. A possible conflict between the Kurdistan Autonomous Region of Iraq and the federal government in Baghdad could potentially disrupt the flow of oil via the Kirkuk – Ceyhan pipeline – causing losses for the Kurdistan Region as well as for Baghdad and Turkey. It is also noteworthy that Iranian – Kurdish parties based in Iraq’s KAR increased their armed activities against military targets in northwestern Iran’s predominantly Iranian – Kurdish regions, while Iran, in July 2017, lobbed artillery shells across the border into Iraqi Kurdistan.

CH/L – nsnbc 12.09.2017

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