It's not just Iraqis — some Kurds oppose a risky independence referendum

Citizens in Baghdad envisage a united Iraq with its territorial integrity respected

Iraqi women walk on the street, near banners supporting the referendum for independence for Kurdistan in Erbil, Iraq September 21, 2017. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani
Powered by automated translation

Hayat Hassan is a novelist living in Baghdad.

"The outcome of Monday's vote is not in question. The Kurds of Iraq have sought independence for decades. It's also no surprise that Iraqis — both those living in Baghdad and those in the Kurdistan region — see things differently.

Despite all the distressing violence that threatens the country's security and economic outlook, we Iraqis have always envisaged a united country with its territorial integrity respected, regardless of whatever troubles the country is going through.

Iraqis want to live in a united country, they don’t want Iraq to split up. If a part of it is lost then our identity is lost also. Separation will mean there is a lack of co-operation among us and that breeds feelings of disappointment and that leads to feelings of mistrust and insecurity.

I am in my 70s and from my point of view, the Kurds have always been equals in Iraqi society and always treated as such. My heart aches to hear that they will separate from us because throughout my life I have never understood why they need to separate. I have never witnessed discrimination against Kurds in society, especially in Baghdad. They spoke their own language — in schools too — and they held positions both in the public and private sectors. We were friends and there was always inter-marriage between Kurds and non-Kurds. There are so many families with mixed heritage. How do you separate those?

Saddam Hussein oppressed everyone in Iraq, anyone who stood in his way or was perceived as a threat to his regime, regardless of ethnicity. We all suffered the same under him.

I do not say the Kurds have no right to independence. It is also their right to hold a referendum, but I do question whether the time is right. I'm opposed to the referendum because it will unleash chaos and insecurity in the region.

Most Iraqis think the dispute between Baghdad and Erbil is over oil and money only. Mr Barzani might think that a yes vote gives him leverage to negotiate with Baghdad and neighbouring powers from a greater position of strength. After the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003, Iraq’s Kurdistan witnessed overwhelming economic growth.

In January 2014, the government of the former prime minister of Iraq, Nouri Al Maliki, cut off financial transfers to the Kurds as part of a fight over control of oil resources. Under the Iraqi constitution, Kurdistan is entitled to 17 percent of Iraqi’s overall budget, but that was cut in 2014 when the war began against ISIL.

Baghdad claims the Kurdish military gained control of oil wells in the city of Kirkuk - a contested city -  and began exporting that oil throughout the region without permission from Baghdad, reaping the benefits of the trade for themselves.This resulted in oil prices going down. That and the constant disputes with central government in Baghdad and a costly war against ISIL extremists sent the region’s economy into a slump.

To a certain extent the Kurds cannot survive without central government in Baghdad. Their economy is in such crisis that they don’t even have enough money to pay their civil servants.

Also, it must be said that not all Kurds are on board with the referendum. I have Kurdish friends living in Erbil and Sulemanyia who are anxious, as they don’t know what the future will hold for them. They tell me constantly that they are against separation but they are so angry about how central government has mismanaged the economy that they are expressing their dissatisfaction through the referendum. At the same time they're worried their wages won't be paid afterwards.

Others are worried that they'll be expelled. Some of my friends are originally Kurds who were born in Baghdad, but left after 2003 due to security reasons. Now they're in a dilemma because the status of Kurds who were not born in Kurdish territory is uncertain. So they ask, 'Will we be kicked out of Erbil if Kurdistan separates?"

It's a heartbreaking situation.It should never have come to this. Iraq is for everyone.