EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: On September 25, a referendum will be held on the future of the Kurdistan region of Iraq. The vote will decide whether autonomous Kurdistan should disengage from Iraq and become an independent state or remain within the Iraqi state. The referendum will be the Iraqi Kurds’ first concrete step towards the realization of the more than century-long dream of an independent Kurdish state.
After WWI, the victorious powers promised independence for the Kurds. This did not materialize, however, mainly due to the opposition of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey.
Since then, the Kurds have suffered persecution and oppression in the countries where they reside: Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey. The Kurds now constitute the largest national group in the world without a state to call their own.
Since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, the Kurds have enjoyed a broad autonomy that has rekindled their aspiration for independence. This aspiration gained great momentum due to the considerable assistance provided by the Peshmerga, the Kurdish military militia, to the war effort against ISIS, without which the Iraqi army would not have succeeded in liberating the Mosul area from the Islamist terrorist organization. But there is a certain irony to the Iraqi victories in Kurdistan: they led to a mini-crisis between the Baghdad government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) over the revival of Kurdish national aspirations.
On this subject, it seems there has been no change in the position of the current Iraqi government in relation to that of its predecessors. According to the central government and Iraqi public figures who oppose Kurdish independence, the Kurds – like Assyrians, Yazidis, and Turkmens – are an inseparable part of Iraqi society who must not disengage from the Iraqi motherland.
Moreover, harsh disputes exist between the KRG and the Iraqi government over oil ownership in Kurdistan and the reimbursement of funds demanded by the government for the sale of that oil. Unexpected support on this matter was recently received from Saudi Arabia, which sought to take revenge on Ankara for its support of Qatar.
As for Israel, while there is a thunderous official silence on the subject, there is no doubt that Jerusalem would support an independent Kurdish state. About three years ago, Prime Minister Netanyahu declared Israel’s support for the establishment of such a state in the part of Iraq where Kurdish autonomy is today. “We must support the Kurds’ aspirations for independence; they deserve it,” Netanyahu declared in a speech at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv….