MESOP NEWS FOCUS : Iraq: The Kurds Regroup After Referendum Ruling via @Stratfor Worldview

23 Nov 2017 – In Stratfor’s 2017 Fourth-Quarter Forecast, we said that Turkey and Iran would grow closer to Iraq over the course of the quarter as all three try to contain Iraqi Kurdistan’s independence aspirations. But as that alliance has grown, the Kurdistan Regional Government has stepped up efforts to divide it. Baghdad, meanwhile, continues to demand the Kurdish government to

Baghdad’s assault on the legality of the Kurdistan Regional Government’s September independence referendum continues. On Nov. 20, the Iraqi Supreme Federal Court ruled that the referendum was unconstitutional and void. The decision, which cannot be appealed, follows a Nov. 6 ruling that no region of Iraq can secede, which the KRG accepted. KRG Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani has responded to the Nov. 20 decision, criticizing it for being unilateral since Kurdish representatives were not present but stopping short of rejecting the ruling. Instead, Barzani continued to push for dialogue between his government in Arbil and the central Iraqi government in Baghdad. He also called for a “third party” to help mediate the constitutional dispute.

Ever since the KRG announced its intention to hold the referendum, Baghdad has questioned the vote’s legality, aiming to establish a foundation from which to delegitimize the results. Though Baghdad lacked the leverage it needed to prevent the referendum from taking place two months ago, the balance of power has changed since then. Turkey and Iran have supported Baghdad as it puts financial and military pressure on the Kurds, and Baghdad has taken control of many disputed territories that had been under Kurdish control, including valuable oil fields. The KRG is reeling from those losses, as well as internal political turmoil, while Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi remains in no hurry to enter negotiations. These events put Baghdad in a strong enough position to demand Arbil to accept — either outright or de facto — the rulings in exchange for accepting a dialogue.

The KRG has few options available to counter the pressure Baghdad and its allies are exerting. Arbil’s best strategy is to try to remain as strong against Baghdad’s demands as possible, while making conciliatory statements that could earn it goodwill from countries including Turkey and the United States. By calling on a third party to mediate the constitutional dispute and also distancing itself from the results of the referendum, Arbil’s strategy is becoming clear: divide the alliance that is currently united against it, and hopefully gain some room to maneuver in negotiations. Read all