Problematic of the future identity of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region
On 19 September 2017, the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs organized a symposium entitled: “Problematique of the future identity of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region”, the participants and interventions addressed a number of issues that resulted from the referendum.
At the opening session, Ambassador Dr. Mounir Zahran, Chair of the Council, emphasize the importance of keeping pace with the current developments in the political arena both internationally and the regionally, especially those taking place in the Middle East Region, concerning the Future Identity of the Region’s States, preservation of the unity of their territories and maintaining their territorial integrity.
Hence the idea of organizing a symposium to discuss the ramifications of the separating of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq on the future of the whole region emerged.
He added that the Council draws on the Egyptian foreign policy, which emphasizes the need to maintain territorial sovereignty and territorial integrity of all Arab and African States.
Therefore, it is necessary to warn against the disintegration of Arab States and to settle differences or disputes among them by peaceful means.
He also noted that Israel’s attempts to interfere in the Iraqi affairs should not be overlooked and that the impact of the separation of Kurdistan Region on the State of Iraq should not be ignored.
Within the framework of the three sessions of the Symposium titled “problematique of the Future Identity of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq“, the audience participated in putting forward several points that constitute the reality resulting from the referendum in the lead-up to independence, in terms of its timing, and whether the Kurdish State, once independent, would have the capabilities to maintain such Independence or not.
Issues discussed during the Symposium included: the real motives behind the step taken by Massoud Barzani, at this very time; the internal divide that followed the referendum and surfaced afterwards in the Kurdish areas; the Kurdish opposition to Barzani’s decision; as well as the grave impact, dealt with by audience, of that step on the concept of the ‘National State’ Model, not only in Iraq, but in the whole region at large; and how this is linked to the scheme of fragmentation of the region.
Participants also mentioned to the general positions of different States on this decision, especially US, EU, Russia, Israel, Iran and Turkey, alongside with an explanation of the Arab stances from Barzani’s Announcement and their visions thereof.
All of the above points were the focus of deliberations at the Symposium: Dr. Muhammad Mujahid El-Zayyat, ECFA’s member, explained that the current situation could change in the very last moments. Should the Referendum be deferred, the Dream of a Kurdish State will continue to exist side by side with the dream of fragmenting the Iraqi State.
In relation to the probabilities, ECFA’s member, Ambassador Sayed Abu Zeid, referred to the launch of the first Kurdish Civil Movement in the city of Sulaymaniyah by some Kurdish intellectuals under a slogan “Not at the Presenting!”, and their labeling of the Kurdish Parties’ Decision as illegitimate and lacking both legal authority and national consensus.
Regarding the emergence of internal Kurdish opposition to the timeliness of the Referendum, ECFA’s member, Dr. Jamal Yousuf, made an intervention, during which he delivered a speech on behalf of Dr. Rajai Fayed, the specialist in Kurdish affairs, who could not attend the Symposium due to special circumstances, saying that regional and international positions rejecting the referendum formed a motive for the emergence of internal Kurdish opposition, prompting some to wonder whether it is at all possible to challenge the whole world and press on with the plan to hold the referendum! In the same vein, Iraqi MP and leader of the ‘Movement for Change’, Aram Sheikh Muhammad, pointed out that the referendum decision was hasty.
Here came the question: why did Barzani took this step at the time he chose?
In this context, Dr. Jamal asserted that the Referendum dream is but a political maneuver by Barzani to postpone the date of electing a new president for the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, especially since the parliament is being stalled for two years, a fact that is well-known to some Kurdish parties, which deem it necessary to agree on a more appropriate date, that would be in tandem with solving internal problems and working to strengthen the State so that it would be then ready to secede and become independent.
The very same motives were emphasized by Dr. Muhammad Mujahid El-Zayyat, who said that the objective of the referendum at the moment was a cover-up of Barzani, as his term of office has expired, hence he will not be able to run again in light of the stalling of the Parliament for two years, and delay of elections that was supposedly schedule the disruption of was supposed to hold new elections in 2017.
On the other hand, the Iraqi government announced that Iraq relies on the Constitution as a reference to regulate the relationship between the federal government and the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. Neither of the parties can determine its fate in isolation from the others, and any decision on Iraq’s future must take into account the constitutional provisions.
All of that was not in isolation from the concept of ‘National State’, which is being the target of fierce and systematic attacks, and this is exactly what was pointed out by Dr. Reda Shehata, when he explained that such idea had crystallized in Egypt, and what the region is witnessing is a fragmentation of the existing entities, thus the Kurdistan Region of Iraq is opening the door wide for dividing on a sectarian basis, let alone being in contradiction with all international charters, which call for the preservation of States’ independence and territorial integrity.
ECFA’s member, Ambassador Muhammad Ashmawi, referred to this very idea, and cautioned that attention should be paid to the so-called “strategy of Tightening the Minority Parties”, a global strategy being implemented in the Middle East Region, as a premise to destroying the great wall surrounding the Arabs and then finishing off their heart, i.e. Egypt and the Gulf States.
In his intervention, ECFA’s Member, Ambassador Sayed Abu Zaid, touched on the same connotation, pointing out that the conflict on the concept of ‘National/Pan-National State’, had been existing since the 1950s, and that the danger to the entire region comes from being pushed into scattering, dispersion and fragmentation to the extent of having bloody clashes and confrontations amongst astray conflicting shrapnel.
Discussions have led to the identification of regional and international positions, and for his part, ECFA’s Chair , Dr. Mounir Zahran, referred to the decision taken by the Arab Ministerial Council to reject the organization of the referendum in Kurdistan, and to demand that the unity and sovereignty of Iraqi territory should be preserved.
ECFA’s Member, Ambassador Muhammad El-Shazly, said that the Egyptian Policy in the Arab World is based on maintaining the territorial unity within the Arab world.
The audience noted that the most important Arab move was the exchange of letters with Barzani, by the Arab League Secretary-General, Ahmad Abou El-Gheit, on his own initiative, explaining to him the Arab position that calls for deferral of referendum and conducting a dialogue between Baghdad and Erbil.
In this context, the Egyptian Ambassador to Iraq stated that Egypt’s official position is based on the principles of maintaining territorial unity and integrity of sister Arab countries; the strength of Iraq lies in the uniform and harmonious survival of its various multiple spectra, which together form the Iraqi State; and Egypt’s refusal of making any unilateral moves, without the coordination between Baghdad and Erbil.
When speakers touched on the Israeli position, each of them noted the real nature of Israel’s role, which is supportive of Kurdistan’s independence, since in addition to Netanyahu’s announcement that in case the Kurds declared their own State, we, the government and people [of Israel], would be in support of that, there are also Israeli statements that have supported the secession of the Kurds for years.
As Dr. Jamal Yusuf noted, the relationship between Kurdistan and the Israelis dates back to 1943, that is to say, before the establishment of the State of ‘Israel’, and such relationship is linked to Israel’s interests with regards to its longstanding conflict with Iraq.
He cited what the Israeli journalist, Shlomo Nakdimona, published in his book ‘The Mossad in Iraq and Neighbours’, that Kurdish leader Mustafa Barzani has seen a need to contact Israel since 1963, seeking their help to realize the Kurds dream of self-rule.
For her part, Professor of the Political Science, Dr. Niveen Mussa’ad, pointed out that the Israeli side has been pursuing a strategy known as “Tightening the Minority Parties“, considering that the creation of a ‘Kurdish State’ will serve as a salvation for Israel, because it would be on Israel’s own interest to establish States based on ethnic, religious and sectarian grounds.
On the US stance, she noted that the US Policy is not always going in the same direction, that’s to say the US cannot be a permanent supporter of the Kurds.
As for the European States, she noted that these States oppose the referendum, because they are suffering from separatist threats within their own countries, thus there is a divergence in European positions.
Also, ECFA’s Member, Ambassador Ussamah Tawfiq, noted that all European States oppose the referendum, and object to the establishment of the Kurdish State, and their objection is due to the timeliness.
When the Russian stance was put forward, he referred to the Russian statements that Erbil should take into account the possible consequences of the referendum, which expresses the national desire of the Kurdish people.
ECFA’s Member, Dr. Muhammad Al Saeed Idrees, spoke of the ambiguity of the Russian stance, which is essentially due to Russian desire to divide areas into spheres of influence between the US and Russia, especially with the US having new bases in Iraq, and the Russians taking Syria as their own sphere of influence.
Coming to the Turkish and Iranian standpoints, he said that the two stances are identical in their categorically rejecting the referendum, leading to further (Iranian-Turkish) rapprochement.
All aspects, direct and indirect, related to the referendum in Kurdistan, including whether it is a step paving the way for independence were put forward for discussion at the symposium.
As it also appeared, the decision lacked the element of timeliness, and its repercussions would not be in the best interest of the entire region, nor indeed of Kurdistan Region of Iraq itself.