The President of Iraqi Kurdistan Masoud Barzani affirmed on Thursday that the road to secession from Iraq is irreversible.
In an interview with Reuters ahead of the scheduled September 25 independence referendum, Barzani reiterated his commitment to dialogue with Bagdad and regional powers to avoid conflict. However, he warned that the framework of these negotiations would be “flexible but not open-ended.”
Barzani expects an independent Kurdistan to emerge between Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria, all of whom have significant Kurdish minorities. In Iraq, it is feared that the armed and battle-hardened Peshmerga force will turn independence in de jure control over territories around the oil-rich region of Kirkuk, beyond the boundaries of the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG).
The Peshmerga defended the region from IS forces in 2014 and have since retained firm control over the territory. Barzani says polls will be set up in Kirkuk, but that the KRG is willing to accept the result either way. The region has a significant presence of Turkmen and Arab minorities.
Iraqi Shi’ite militias are claiming Sinjar, Makhmour, and Khanaqin in the broader region, in what is feared could escalate into a wider ethnic conflict with the involvement of Iran.
However, Barzani has achieved a wide agreement with Turkey, as Ankara prioritizes thwarting the advance of Kurdish People’s Protection Forces (YPG) in Northern Syria. Barzani’s Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) has agreed to contain YPG, which Ankara links to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). YPG is a 50,000-strong force armed by the United States and fully integrated into the campaign against IS in Syria and Iraq.