Dear President Barzani – When Will Be the Date Of Our Independence Referendum?

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By Arian Mufid:

When President Barzani recently told a UK newspaper that there was going to be a referendum on the independence of Kurdistan, it left me wondering how he had calculated his proposal. For the last four years he has been telling his own people that the day of the declaration of independence is looming and this has made him a laughing stock to ordinary people who wonder how the President of Kurdistan has reached such a conclusion, considering that the Kurds in the south are still not a self-reliant nation. Masud Barzani has never encouraged an open debate about this issue but has rather relied more on the promises of neighbouring countries such as Turkey. For the last three years the KRG (Kurdistan Regional Government) and its President have not constructively addressed the issue of independence and separation; for that reason not a single agreement has been reached. At the beginning of September Barzani visited the UK and France and only a week after this trip, in which he revealed his strategy for declaring independence, he appeared to take a 180 degree turn when he decided to visit Baghdad with some PUK leaders. At the press conference following his meeting with Iraqi government leaders, Barzani indicated that he plans to remain in power for good and that he will reach agreements with Baghdad on all disputed issues such as oil, the budget, etc. There was no more promise of a referendum on independence. As Jonathan Randall (1) has observed, the Kurdish leaders have missed so many opportunities to build an independent state and it is hard to compensate for this now.

There has been one key factor influencing the KDP leaders’ ad hoc approach to politics since the party was established in 1946: the KDP as a party has always relied on foreign powers for its survival. When its founder Mustafa Barzani decided to return to the south of Kurdistan from Russia in 1963 he had been given a green light by the Qasim government in Baghdad on whom he became heavily dependent from 1963 to 1968. In the early 1970s Mustafa Barzani developed relations with the Shah of Iran and for that reason the 1974 war was waged, despite warnings of its potential consequences. Mustafa’s son Masud Barzani visited Baghdad in 1973 to see Saddam Hussain at Saddam’s invitation. Masud Barzani was only 27 at the time and during his visit Saddam clearly warned him that if his father started any war in alliance with Iran, Saddam would concede the disputed waters of Shatt al-Arab to the Shah, leaving the Kurds isolated and responsible for their own actions. (2) In the same year Idres Barzani, another son, was also invited to Baghdad and Saddam gave him a similar message to deliver to Barzani senior. Barzani senior asked his son Masud to consider the matter and Masud commissioned three people, including Idres Barzani and Rasheed Sindi, to do a review. They decided to ignore the threat and instead gamble on getting solid support from the Shah. The Kurds in 1974 started their revolution with the help of the Shah and the US. When the Shah did a deal with Saddam and turned off his tap of support to the Kurds, the revolution collapsed, Barzani took refuge to the US, and the rest of the organisation’s cadres were left destitute in Europe and elsewhere around the world. Thousands of Peshmerga forces surrendered to the Iraqi army.

The KDP and its leadership traditionally had not trusted the will of the people as the main weapon for succeeding and defeating enemies. The fact that the organisation was built on a tribal basis as opposed being to a modern party which could win the conscious support of the masses, ultimately led to its downfall then and its enduring failure to deliver fundamental change and independence for the people of Kurdistan. The KDP is an organisation in which many of its politbureau members have reached their eighties but are still sitting at the top the party. The advisers to the KDP leadership are not independent people but they come from the elderly generation of Barzani followers; they do not have a basis of knowledge or constructive ideas based on the global context.

Consequently, the KDP now needs to give priority to a strategy of independence and must not retreat from this. The KDP needs to reconcile with their own people and reactivate the KRG Parliament which it dismantled in October 2015. The KDP needs to bring back the ministers belonging to the Gorran movement who have been expelled from the Government. And finally, the KDP needs to be faithful to a nationalist approach to the whole issue.

(1) ‘Kurdistan: After Such Knowledge, What Forgiveness?’, Jonathan Randall, 1996
(2) ‘Mustafa Barzani and the Kurdish Liberation Movement’, Masud Barzani, 1981

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