This is a year of regeneration for Iraqi Kurdistan, a time when its people will shed the crippling burden of war and uncertainty and start to shape their future — on our own terms.
Iraqi Kurdistan can no longer mark time. We must all take a stake in our future and redefine the nature of a relationship with Iraq that will confine repeated mistakes of the past to history. That is why Iraqi Kurdistan will take the historic step of holding a referendum on independence later this year.
Iraq was, and is, a forced coexistence of peoples whose identities remain unreconciled a century after the breakdown of the Ottoman Empire, which spawned the modern state. This reality is apparent more than ever: From Basra to Tikrit, from Diyala to Anbar, a Sunni-Shia conflict has edged the country and its peoples towards the abyss. We, as leaders whose ultimate responsibility is the welfare of our people, need to acknowledge that the model is not working.
The upcoming Sept. 25 vote aims to clearly stake out the political terms on which we, the people of Iraqi Kurdistan, would best play a role in the future of the region. If, as expected, a vote for independence passes, the government will move to implement the decision in consultation with Baghdad.
If we stay as we are, muddled together through hope and delusion, we do precisely the opposite — bequeathing danger and dysfunction to future generations who need and deserve far better.
The Kurds of Iraq have endured a long and bitter journey rooted in the pursuit of self-determination — a dignity essential to all communities. It has at times led to mass deportation, war and genocide. Self-determination would have changed the course of the war with ISIS. If Iraq’s Kurds were recognized as a sovereign force and empowered as such, we would have concluded this campaign long ago. Forced unity with Baghdad instead denied us the weapons we needed, which needlessly prolonged suffering and exposed to everyone the folly of pretending that the status quo works.
This historic process will start with an honest dialogue with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. And on this score, we have been encouraged by our discussions with national leaders. The recapture of Mosul gives both Erbil and Baghdad a strong platform to address a question that has lingered since the turn of the century. We hope and expect that the world will get behind us. We strongly believe that self-determination for Iraq’s Kurds will provide certainty in Iraq and beyond.
This referendum will, therefore, give us a mandate to reach a principle agreement with Mr. al-Abadi. It would also start the process that would create the political space for both parties to advance causes of common interest. This issue can no longer be confined to the “too hard basket”; the dangers of defaulting to a broken model are enormous. We have much to gain through peace and understanding, through a common recognition of each other’s place in two newly defined nations.
This move will not alter borders of neighboring states. It will instead formalize the obvious makeup of the Iraqi state today. The Kurds have paid a heavy price for the international community’s failed one-Iraq policy. Instead, global partners should now publicly support a dialogue between Erbil and Baghdad to shape bilateral relations on new and binding terms.
We will allow the people in contested areas to determine their own future. In negotiations with Baghdad, Kurdistan plans to include areas only with people who overwhelmingly want to be part the new state. We will remain a refuge for groups fleeing violence and persecution; Christians, Turkmen, Shabaks, Yazidis and other groups have as much to look forward to as fellow Kurds. They will continue to enjoy the same rights in a shared home.
Two independent states living alongside each other as peaceful neighbors will usher unprecedented strategic alliances in trade, energy and security. It will secure a prosperous footing for both communities, Arabs and Kurds, and allow us to determine the best governance for our peoples.
• Masrour Barzani is the Chancellor of the Kurdistan Region Security Council.
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