By Ouiame Amjahad
Rabat – In Kurdistan’s referendum for independence in late September, 92 percent of voters expressed their support for separation from Iraq.
But while the regional government of Kurdistan has stated that the referendum will be binding, the results will be followed with a period of nation-building through negotiations with Iraq.
Instead of declaring an immediate independence, the Federal Government of Iraq issued a statement categorically denying the referendum’s legitimacy.
In conversation with Morocco World News, Idriss Hani, a member of the Administrative Board of the International Association of Experts and Political Analysts and a researcher in regional affairs, discusses the potential implications of the vote for the Middle East.
Hani also elaborates on the real motives of Israel in its support of Iraqi Kurdish “self-determination” in relation to the strong rejection of the referendum by countries like Turkey, Iran, and Morocco, as well as the new regional alignments that have begun to emerge, signaling a new cold war in the Middle East.
What are the possible repercussions of referendum results on the situation in the Middle East?
Idriss Hani: The situation in the Middle East is based on a regional and international system agreed upon by the international superpowers; and there remained areas of continuing tenfsion which, during the post-World War II period, have been a source of a lot of misunderstanding and almost periodic conflicts.
In the same context, if we do not exclude the roles of international rule, these regions were turned into political cards in the hands of other countries. At times, they were used for pressure and at others for attempting to penetrate the regional system and create entries or gaps to achieve what some politicians called in their speeches “creative chaos.” The latter cannot be conceived without creating changes in the map of the Middle East.
One should recall the fact that the regional system in the Middle East is fragile due to the existence of many ethnic and sectarian sensitivities, which are contributing factors to the destabilization of the region. This ethnic and sectarian diversity also exists even in Western countries, but the difference here is that in the West there is a homogenous system that accommodates diversity and a culture of coexistence based on the power of law and political decision.
This, however, does not exist in the Middle East because of the lack of harmony in systems and interests and the great legacy of colonialism, tyranny, and underdevelopment. Therefore, in such an international and regional situation, it would be difficult for this event to pass without significant repercussions if there are no initiatives to comprehend the crisis. In the end, it is nothing more than an international sign and pressure related to the post-arrangements of ending the Syrian issue. We must realize that the victory of Syria and its allies in this war is something the forces that are using the separatism card could not take in.
The President of the Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq Massoud Barzani previously announced his desire to hold a referendum in 2014, but quickly retracted. Why?
Idriss Hani: Barzani hinted at carrying out the referendum after the Iraqi army failed to protect the north following the ISIL’s occupation of Mosul and other areas in northern Iraq. They then withdrew from the decision to hold a referendum because of regional reactions and the absence of an explicit international adoption of the draft referendum. They had been able to interpret the Article 140 in the constitution of the Republic of Iraq related to the disputed areas such as Kirkuk, after it was entered by the Peshmerga forces on the basis that the Iraqi army failed to protect these areas and therefore created a vacuum. Now, they consider this article as repealed.
There have always been excuses to declare secession, so they see it not only as an opinion poll but, as some regional officials say, binding, and therefore the results of the referendum must be translated into a program of action for independence. Today, the pretext is the failure of understanding with the federal government. The issue of separation was not because of all these pretexts, but a dream in the mind of Brazzani and his group, while it is an international political card beyond the dream of the Kurds. However, they are used as part of a very complex conflict.
Why did the Kurdish Change Movement and the Kurdistan Islamic Group call for postponing the referendum and submitting the issue to Kurdistan’s parliament?
Idriss Hani: There are some Kurdish groups that are aware of the dangers of the referendum and are keen to postpone the referendum, at least so it will not be carried out in a context in which the region suffers great congestion, where the Kurds will pay the tax of this risk. There is a fear that this unilateral decision will push the crisis further. Massoud Barzani is trying to awaken the dream of the Kurds to have a state, but it is a state inside a flaming geopolitical spot. We cannot consider the results of the referendum as if it was an opinion poll.
Even though it concerns the region of Kurdistan, it will not stop the uprising of the Kurds of other regions alone, but it is likely to inspire other ethnic groups to call for separation, and there will always be an article of self-determination. This article was developed by the same international parties that are responsible for demarcating the border between the states.
Why did Iraq refuse the international community’s suggestion to hold the referendum in Kirkuk and the disputed areas?
Idriss Hani: It is necessary to recall that Kirkuk is a home area to Turkmen, Arabs, and Kurds. There is no doubt that Iraq is today in the context of a political process aimed at building the Iraqi state. And that any form of referendum, whether it is about Kirkuk or the region, is a kind of confusion to the process of bringing Iraq to a normal status. There are those who exploit the fragility of the situation in Iraq to pass projects that undermine the stability of the country and the stability of the region. The Iraqi government is fully aware of what is being planned for Iraq and its neighbours.
Why did the threats of Iran and Turkey turn into economic threats, whereas before they were military?
Idriss Hani: There is a reality that is being considered within the Kurdistan of Iraq. The trade volume between Turkey and the region has decreased, with Iran as a competitor that has achieved great exchanges during years of relations with the regional government. Iran is especially concerned, but it is seeking a diplomatic way out away from the military option that remains inevitable, like in Turkey, if there are no changes in the Kurdish position.
I think that the Kurdish side is also aware of the challenge it will face if Iran and Turkey cut its relationship with the region. On the other hand, Barzani is trying to tempt Erdogan with great economic relations between Turkey and Kurdistan, especially in view of the decline in the rate of Turkish investments.
But, I think that the Iranian-Turkish understanding on this issue is part of the common issues between Turkey and Iran, and when the problem is common between the two countries, it leads to a more realistic solution. It is clear here that the economic threats are agreed upon between the two countries in order to remind the Kurds of the region that any economic blockade imposed by Iran and Turkey on Kurdistan would ruin any attempt to secede. Essentially, what is the need for creating a state without economic outlets? But how can we imagine an independent state in the region if Turkey, Iran, and Baghdad close its outlets?
Would Turkey and Iran risk severing economic relations with Kurdistan?
Idriss Hani: Yes, this is the first option in case the situation develops in the region. There are signs that the decision to close the borders and air traffic between these countries is beginning to emerge, and Turkey and Iran may convince other countries to hold a boycott. This would therefore lead to an abnormal situation that would prevent the declaration of a disaster-stricken state from its very inception. The situation here is quite different from Sudan. The region here is sensitive, and the interference of wills would make any such decision the starting point of a crisis whose outcome no one could predict.
Would the referendum open the ethnic appetite in Iraq and mark the beginning of a new bloody war?
Idriss Hani: Yes, this is obvious. The region is a home to multiple ethnic groups, and any such decision will make the division based on these sensitivities. None of the countries in the region are prepared to face the challenge of division. Allowing self-determination for ethnic groups means the end of the Middle East, which seems impossible.
Will alignments for a new Cold War in the Middle East emerge?
Idriss Hani: The Cold War is always there, and I think it was not dead. Even when the Soviet Union fell, the Cold War was in place, but it is concealed. Today, it has officially returned. The Middle East has always been the target of this cold war.
The division pretext is the latest tactic to be used in the region, but the irony here is that the beginning of the division failed, because the crisis in the Middle East cannot afford to continue at this pace, while the international and regional parties will not bear the consequences of failure to achieve their project. It seems to me that we are in front of a real state of confusion, in front of a confused Middle East.
Why does Israel support the Kurdish referendum in the Kurdistan region?
Idriss Hani: Israel seeks to achieve a breakthrough in the region and establish a base in Kurdistan, which is close to Turkey and Iran. Today, there are concerns of the re-establishment of a second Israel in the region with the same goals. Because, if Kurdistan declares independence, it will be a US and Israeli protectorate. This how Barzani thinks, and so does Israel. The support for the decision to separate and the birth of an entity is not only a desire, but a strategic cause.
The existence of a territory related to Israel is a strategic gain. Let us not forget that Israel occupies Palestine, where there are Kurds who migrated to it in ancient historical periods. Israel is also seeking to use the Kurdish card not only to infiltrate the Arab region, but also to further penetrate Anatolia and to be present on the Iranian border. So, they also think about the same strategy. They are aware of the repercussions of the referendum in the region.
Why has Morocco expressed its rejection of the referendum? Is the kingdom concerned about it?
Idriss Hani: The issue is a matter of principles, because Morocco rejects division and separation. The decision is consistent with Morocco’s strategy to defend its territorial integrity. Moreover, the states concerned with the referendum understand Morocco’s position in defending its territorial integrity and blocking any such action.
What was Bernard Henri-Levy doing in Kurdistan on the referendum day?
Idriss Hani: He was playing the role of Pink Panther, as he travels around the areas of tension. I think Bernard-Henri Levy is a maniac of acting. He has no role, but he is looking for a place to take pictures.
Recently, he lived in a painful situation when he was forced into isolation and inactivity in Riad Al-Zahia in Marrakech. His Libyan friends are no longer offering him a stage presence in Libya. A while ago, he contacted his old friends to find a new entry to Libya, but in vain. He remained in isolation until he found a chance in the events of Kurdistan to return to the field even during the stoppage time. In my opinion, Bernard-Henri Levy is a cinematic phenomenon.
More precisely, he has no role to raise any fears. He is looking for a historical character as a libertarian. But every time, he is not lucky.