Prof. Entessar:

Due to limits, KRG to calibrate policy toward Turkey

News ID: 4092676 -
TEHRAN, Sep. 22 (MNA) – Professor of political science, Nader Entessar says due to Ankara influence, the KRG has carefully calibrated its policies towards Turkey, and it may continue to do so.

Despite growing opposition from Baghdad and neighboring countries and pressure on KRG head Masoud Barzani to withdraw from the independence plan, Iraqi Kurdistan region is still insisting on going ahead with the referendum on September 25.

In an interview with Mehr News Agency, Nader Entessar Professor and Chair of Department of Political Science and Criminal Justice, University of South Alabama, said the KRG knows that Ankara wields enormous influence in Iraqi Kurdistan and there are limits to how far Turkey can be antagonized.   In the past years, the KRG has carefully calibrated its policies towards Turkey, and it may continue to do so.

Following is the text of the interview:

Iraqi Kurdistan region’s referendum on independence is slated for September 25 despite opposition from some Kurdish parties such as the Kurdistan Islamic Group (KIG) or Gorran Movement. From the viewpoint of Kurdish parties, what will be the effects of the holding of the independence referendum on the said parties?

Although there exists some opposition among the Kurds to holding the Kurdish independence referendum on September 25, the Kurdish Democratic Party and Barzani have the upper hand on the issue of the referendum. Besides, the opposition parties, such as Gorran or the PUK are weaker today that they had been in recent past.  After the death of Gorran's founder Nawshirvan Mustafa, this party has lost much of its influence.  Also, Jalala Talabani's deteriorating health and his advanced age have weakened the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) as a bulwark against Barzani's ambitions to establish himself as the undisputed decision-maker in Kurdish affairs.

Given the strict opposition of Baghdad, and particularly Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who has called the Kurdish independence plan “playing with fire”, is there any possibility of Baghdad’s military confrontation with Erbil following the holding of the referendum?

Of course, we cannot discount the possibility of a military confrontation between Baghdad and Arbil following the independence referendum, but this will depend on the specific steps the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) will take in the immediate weeks after holding the referendum. 

The US and the UK have opposed the referendum. Are they fundamentally against the separation of the Kurdistan region or just don’t think the timing is right? What is the actual reason of their opposition?

At this time, both Washington and London do not favour the creation of an independent Kurdish state in Iraq because they view this is a potentially destabilizing event.  However, neither the US nor the UK is against breaking-up Iraq if this would lead to their enhanced presence in the region and if they think this would weaken Iran and Iranian regional interests. If an independent Kurdish state becomes a "second Israel," as some have suggested, then both Washington and London will be more inclined to support braking-up the Iraqi state  

What will be the possible reaction of Turkey to the referendum? Is Ankara’s military confrontation with Erbil conceivable?

Turkish officials have been very clear that they are opposed to the Kurdish independence referendum, and Turkey has stated that it reserves the right to use all options, including military ones, to defend its interests.  However, the KRG knows that Ankara wields enormous influence in Iraqi Kurdistan and there are limits to how far Turkey can be antagonized.   In the past years, the KRG has carefully calibrated its policies towards Turkey, and it may continue to do so after the referendum on Kurdish independence.

Reportedly, the US has proposed an alternative plan to Barzani based on which Kirkuk will be handed to KRG and in return for the referendum delay. How do you evaluate this proposal?

There are several alternative plans that the US has purportedly suggested to the KRG, one of which is what you have mentioned.  I am not certain that Barzani will accept the plan if the delay in the referendum is envisioned in, say, one or two years.  If a relatively long delay in holding the referendum is envisioned, it may not work in Barzani's favor as both the balance of forces inside the KRG and the Kirkuk region may change and thus may weaken the KRG's position.

Considering the fact that conflicting regions like Kirkuk will take part in the referendum, what will be the possible reaction of non-Kurdish movements and residents like Turkmens? Will they accept its results?

The reaction of non-Kurdish residents of Kirkuk to the referendum remains a big unknown at this time.  Some, especially the Turkmens, have been ambivalent, to say the least, about their future in a Kurdish state. At the same time, the non-Kurdish groups in Kirkuk do not currently control the levers of power and are not in a position to prevent the holding of the referendum.  Also, they may not be satisfied with the results of such a referendum, but their hands are tied, at least in the short run, without an active intervention by the Iraqi forces in Kirkuk.  

interview by Payman Yazdani

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