ERBIL, IRAQ - SEPTEMBER 22:  Kurdish President Masoud Barzani speaks to supporters during a rally for the upcoming referendum for independence of Kurdistan on September 22, 2017 in Erbil, Iraq. The Kurdish Regional government is preparing to hold the September 25, independence referendum despite strong objection from neighboring countries and the Iraqi government, which voted Tuesday to reject Kurdistan's referendum and authorized the Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to take measures against the vote. Despite the mounting pressures Kurdistan President Masoud Barzani continues to campaign and state his determination to go ahead with the vote.  (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)
Kurdish President Masoud Barzani speaks to supporters during a rally for the upcoming referendum for independence of Kurdistan on September 22, 2017 in Erbil, Iraq.Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Kurdish independence vote a smokescreen for Barzani's domestic political woes



The sea of flags filling the stadiums of the major cities in Iraqi Kurdistan are an impressive - and an unusual - sight. Such mass demonstrations of popular will have not been witnessed in the autonomous region in a while, and it took the anticipation of a very special occasion to get the Kurds to gather in such numbers.
On Monday, September 25, everyone living in areas controlled by Kurdish security forces, with the exception of Arabs displaced to Kurdish territory by ISIL, will get to answer a simple question: "Do you want an independent Kurdistan?"
Few Kurds in Iraq, or indeed in Syria, Iran or Turkey, would tick the "No" option on the voting slip. Regarding themselves as the largest nation without a state, Kurds feel cheated out of their own country by devious realpolitikal machinations dating back to the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the carve up of the region by the British and the French. 
The Kurds have suffered discrimination and worse in each of the four countries that took a chunk out of the territories they inhabit. To outside observers, it is easy to be sympathetic to their aspirations. After all, the idea of the nation state was passionately pursued by patriots in nineteenth century Europe, and in the post-war Middle East.
Unfortunately, things are rarely that straightforward, especially in Iraq. 
By stirring this passion, Kurdish President Massoud Barzani has resorted to one of the oldest tricks in the political book.

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Read more:

Iraqi Kurdish referendum: Barzani says 'too late' to postpone vote

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

Masoud Barzani the 'servant of an independent Kurdistan'

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The wily Mr Barzani, who hails from the most prominent political clan in Iraqi Kurdistan, is the architect of the referendum. He knows it will result in an overwhelming "yes", such is the enthusiasm for independence among Kurds. 
It is in fact this fervour that counts more than the referendum's outcome. As it has been throughout the ages, nationalism is being deployed as a smokescreen to hide this mountain of problems and to maintain the legitimacy of a president who has lost his legal mandate. 
The Kurdistan Regional Government is facing tough times. Its economy has nosedived, ostensibly a result of the war against ISIL, but in reality because of inept decision making. A total reliance on oil exports for state revenue turned into disaster when the global oil price tumbled. Kurdish production and reserves turned out to be less than predicted and a long-standing dispute with the Iraqi government over oil receipts was not resolved. 
Those waiting for real democracy and a liberalisation of society have been disappointed. Instead, Mr Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic Party and another powerful party in the KRG, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, continue to rule with a mix of cronyism and intimidation.
Nothing exemplifies this more than Mr Barzani himself.
The president's tenure expired in 2013. He was granted a controversial extension by the Kurdish parliament, but when this expired, Mr Barzani simply ruled on, relying on his status as war time leader. With the war on ISIL as good as over, Mr Barzani needs another cause to rally the people behind him.
While most Kurds support independence with vigour, the Arabs and minorities in the so-called disputed territories are less enthusiastic. Some have decided that throwing in their lot with the Kurds offers their best hope of a secure future. Others, like the Yazidis, want nothing to do with Kurdistan. The Yazidis were abandoned by the Kurdish Peshmerga in 2014, allowing for genocide at the hands of ISIL to happen. The Yazidis have not forgotten this, and are loth to vote yes in the referendum, which equates to approval for their homelands in Sinjar falling under Kurdish control.
In Kirkuk, where the Kurdish governor Najmaldin Karim has decided the referendum will be held, the Arabs and Turkmen population is also hostile to the idea of falling to Kurdistan. Kirkuk is already under de-facto Kurdish control after the Peshmerga seized the city to prevent it from falling to ISIL in 2014. 
There is concern that the vote in the disputed territories, which run from Sinjar in the west all the way to the Iranian border, will not reflect the wishes of its population of Arabs, Yazidis, Turkmen, Christians and other minorities, but that of the Kurdish security forces that control large parts of these areas. 
In the end, it does not really matter. A "yes" vote does not give Mr Barzani a carte blanche to declare independence, it merely gives him a stronger hand in negotiations with the Iraqi central government on the issue. 
Or so goes the theory. In practice, Baghdad and powerful militia groups aligned with the government might be a little too impressed with Mr Barzani's bravado. By making an aggressive push for sensitive areas rich in oil and claimed by both sides, the Kurdish president risks a military conflict between the Peshmerga and Iraqi forces. 
Coming so soon after the devastating war against ISIL, another substantial conflict would be disastrous for Iraq. But it could be even more damaging for the Kurdish region, which benefitted hugely by being a comparatively safe part of Iraq. If this image is shattered, any meaningful investment from abroad or within Iraq will remain a pipe dream for years to come.
Fighting against battle-hardened Iraqi troops and militias, and without the coalition air support they received when fighting ISIL, the Peshmerga could be in for a bloody nose. 
These would be seriously troublesome developments for the Kurds, and for Mr Barzani, who has become almost synonymous with Kurdish patriotism in Iraq. What will the future hold for him if his bold move backfires?
Having sown the storm, Mr Barzani might well be reaping a whirlwind.

IF YOU GO
 
The flights: FlyDubai offers direct flights to Catania Airport from Dubai International Terminal 2 daily with return fares starting from Dh1,895.
 
The details: Access to the 2,900-metre elevation point at Mount Etna by cable car and 4x4 transport vehicle cost around €57.50 (Dh248) per adult. Entry into Teatro Greco costs €10 (Dh43). For more go to www.visitsicily.info

 Where to stay: Hilton Giardini Naxos offers beachfront access and accessible to Taormina and Mount Etna. Rooms start from around €130 (Dh561) per night, including taxes.

Sarfira

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Gulf Men's League final

Dubai Hurricanes 24-12 Abu Dhabi Harlequins

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Company: Eco Way
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Opening fixtures

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Milivojevic 76' (pen), Van Aanholt 88'

Huddersfield Town 0

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The burning issue

The internal combustion engine is facing a watershed moment – major manufacturer Volvo is to stop producing petroleum-powered vehicles by 2021 and countries in Europe, including the UK, have vowed to ban their sale before 2040. The National takes a look at the story of one of the most successful technologies of the last 100 years and how it has impacted life in the UAE. 

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Company name: Revibe
Started: 2022
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Based: UAE
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21 Lessons for the 21st Century

Yuval Noah Harari, Jonathan Cape
 

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Final, 7.30pm

UAE currency: the story behind the money in your pockets
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UAE SQUAD

 

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2) Take it to the US Embassy

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SPEC SHEET: APPLE M3 MACBOOK AIR (13")

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In the box: MacBook Air, 30W/35W dual-port/70w power adapter, USB-C-to-MagSafe cable, 2 Apple stickers

Price: From Dh4,599

The Kingfisher Secret
Anonymous, Penguin Books

Tips to avoid getting scammed

1) Beware of cheques presented late on Thursday

2) Visit an RTA centre to change registration only after receiving payment

3) Be aware of people asking to test drive the car alone

4) Try not to close the sale at night

5) Don't be rushed into a sale 

6) Call 901 if you see any suspicious behaviour

Company Profile

Company name: Cargoz
Date started: January 2022
Founders: Premlal Pullisserry and Lijo Antony
Based: Dubai
Number of staff: 30
Investment stage: Seed

Dengue fever symptoms

High fever (40°C/104°F)
Severe headache
Pain behind the eyes
Muscle and joint pains
Nausea
Vomiting
Swollen glands
Rash

The burning issue

The internal combustion engine is facing a watershed moment – major manufacturer Volvo is to stop producing petroleum-powered vehicles by 2021 and countries in Europe, including the UK, have vowed to ban their sale before 2040. The National takes a look at the story of one of the most successful technologies of the last 100 years and how it has impacted life in the UAE. 

Read part four: an affection for classic cars lives on

Read part three: the age of the electric vehicle begins

Read part one: how cars came to the UAE

 

Specs: 2024 McLaren Artura Spider

Engine: 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 and electric motor
Max power: 700hp at 7,500rpm
Max torque: 720Nm at 2,250rpm
Transmission: Eight-speed dual-clutch auto
0-100km/h: 3.0sec
Top speed: 330kph
Price: From Dh1.14 million ($311,000)
On sale: Now

WTL SCHEDULE

DECEMBER 19 (6pm)
Kites v Eagles
Aliassime v Kyrgios
Swiatek v Garcia
Entertainment: Tiesto

DECEMBER 20 (6pm)
Falcons v Hawks
Djokovic v Zverev
Sabalenka v Rybakina
Entertainment: Wizkid

DECEMBER 21 (6pm)
Falcons v Eagles
Djokovic v Kyrgios
Badosa v Garcia
Entertainment: Ne-Yo

DECEMBER 22 (6pm)
Hawks v Kites
Thiem v Aliassime
Kontaveit v Swiatek
Entertainment: deadmau5

DECEMBER 23 (2pm)
Eagles v Hawks
Kyrgios v Zverev
Garcia v Rybakina
Entertainment: Mohammed Ramadan

DECEMBER 23 (6pm)
Falcons v Kites
Djokovic v Aliassime
Sabalenka v Swiatek
Entertainment: Mohammed Ramadan

DECEMBER 24 (6pm)
Finals
Entertainment: Armin Van Buuren