Why do Kurds want a separate country?

  • The Kurdish independence referendum on September 25, 2017 in Iraq, while non-binding, is a symbolic milestone in the Kurds’ decades-long struggle to achieve statehood.
  • Kurds voted in large numbers in the referendum in northern Iraq, ignoring pressure from Baghdad, threats from Turkey and Iran, and international warnings that the vote may ignite yet more regional conflict.
  • For Iraqi Kurds — the largest ethnic group left stateless when the Ottoman empire collapsed a century ago — the referendum offers a historic opportunity despite intense international pressure to call it off.
  • The Kurds also say the vote acknowledges their contribution in confronting Islamic State after it overwhelmed the Iraqi army in 2014 and seized control of a third of Iraq. But with 30 million ethnic Kurds scattered over international borders across the region, Tehran and Ankara fear the spread of separatism to their own Kurdish populations.
  • After World War One, Britain and France carved up the Ottoman empire, leaving the Kurds scattered mainly over four countries: Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria.
  • All of them suffered persecution and were often denied the right to speak their language. Those in Iraq were uprooted under Saddam and suffered an attack using chemical weapons.
  • The Kurds’ sense of sacrifice and betrayal is rooted in decades of war and oppression, in which they repeatedly rose up against the Baghdad government and were often brutally repressed.
  • During the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, the Kurds sided with Iran against Saddam Hussein, who punished them with a scorched-earth campaign involving chemical weapons that killed an estimated 50,000 people. A no-fly zone imposed by the U.S. in the early 1990s largely halted the killings, and allowed the Kurds to develop de facto autonomy, which was formalized after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
  • In the years after the American invasion, the Kurdish region emerged as a rare success story. The peshmerga insulated the region from the insurgency and sectarian killings that plagued much of the rest Iraq, and oil revenues fueled an economic boom, leading to talk of a new Dubai.
  • That all changed in 2014, when IS rampaged across northern Iraq, at one point approaching within a few kilometres of Irbil. The collapse in global oil prices later that year led to a severe economic downturn, exposing a government riddled with corruption and an economy dominated by a bloated public sector.
  • Meanwhile, as the peshmerga halted the IS advance and then began to push back with the help of U.S.-led airstrikes, they seized territory equivalent to 50% of their autonomous region, further raising tensions with Baghdad. The oil-rich city of Kirkuk, with large Kurdish, Arab, Turkmen and Christian communities, is divided over the referendum and has seen low-level clashes in the days leading up to the referendum.


Leave a Reply