KURDPRESS  19 May 2017 – Possible Kurdistan region’s independence should be a negotiated divorce: Professor Michael Gunter, a political science professor at Tennessee Technological University, believes the Iraqi northern region of Kurdistan will hold the expected referendum on its independence and the regional countries, though they are against it, would not oppose it seriously. Kurdpress interviewed the professor in the wake of the recent developments, talks over the independence of the region and the war against the IS. What follows is his answers to our questions.

 Kurdpress: Kurdistan Region has stated that it is going to hold an independence referendum and they are making plans to put the attempt into action besides it has decided to rise its flag in Kirkuk, northern Iraq; why the region has decided to hoist the flag?

Well, I don’t know but it might be speculated that it might be a sign for the referendum.

Kurdpress: Do you mean they want to hold the referendum and annex the province into the region?

I think that’s so.

Kurdpress: If they are going to annex the province into the region, in what way neighboring countries of Iraq will react to the move?

Regarding the situation of the ISIS and how the Iraqi government collapsed in 2014, I think it is a fait accompli.

Kurdpress: How those neighboring states would react to the possible independence of the region from Iraq?

I think they would accept it. They are against it and they don’t want to see it happen but it is not that strong. They would accept it. There are more important things than trying to stop the independence of the KRG (Kurdistan Regional Government).

Kurdpress: The neighboring states, however, have expressed their opposition to the move times?

Yes they are against it but not that strongly to go to war. If the KRG becomes independent Turkey and Iran would be very influential about what is happening in the KRG.

Kurdpress: As you know we have Turkmen and Arabs in Kirkuk and they have expressed their opposition, the Turkemns in particular, to the KRG hoisting its flag over governmental buildings in the province, how will they react to the possible annex of the province to the region?

Well, the governor of Kirkuk Najmaddin Karim is a very intelligent and fair person and he would find ways to allow the minorities to still have a very fair position in Kirkuk. And I also want to say about your previous question that Turkmen, Arabs and Assyrians have visited Kurdistan. They are all Kurdistani. They live in Kurdistan. So Kurdistan is not an ethnic country but it is a civic country. All people living in Kurdistan, though they are not ethnic Kurds, are citizens of Kurdistan and it is their country. It is not just the country of ethnic Kurds; it is the country of everybody who lives there. So with wise leadership, independence should be accepted and preferred by the different minorities.

Kurdpress: The KDP has stated that it is better to have the referendum as the priority not political and economic issues the region is suffering from and even the war against the Islamic State (IS), what do you think about the stance?

Well it is never prefect perfect time for the KRG to become independent and I myself would very cautious about it. This may not be the precise, correct time to become independent. It is up to the people of the Kurdistan to decide what they want to do.

Kurdpress: Who or what organization, you think, will hold the referendum?

Well, I don’t know. I presume the government; the government of Kurdistan Region, has the lease to do this.

Kurdpress: There are talks that they are going to establish a committee to do that and it has not been formed yet; do you think there should be committee for the task?

Well, I would like to see the United Nations to observe the referendum. So there is no question over its validity. I would also hope that Iran and Turkey would send representative to observe the validity of the referendum. And I would also hope that it would be an amicable divorce between Erbil and Baghdad like in Czechoslovakia. And the referendum would be done in cooperation with Baghdad.

Kurdpress: Can they set a date for it or launch it unannounced?

I don’t have any information about that. It is a matter of fact that the KRG has been talking about referendum for the last several years, even since 2014. I don’t know if they really want to have a referendum or it is just political talk to try to achieve unity and pass the current political troubles in Kurdistan.

Kurdpress: Will the central government in Baghdad cooperate with Kurds in declaring their independence, as some blocs in the Iraqi capital have expressed their opposition and PM (Haider) al-Abadi has recently stated that it is better for the region not to quit Iraq and the state is better to remain united?

It depends how wise the diplomacy of KRG is. But I think that Baghdad has come to the conclusion that it would accept independence if it is done in an amicable, fair way. The fate of the disputed regions has to be decided and the Kurds should not try to take everything. It has got to be, as I said, an amicable divorce that either the provisions were to fully continue to cooperate with each other and keep the legacy of the former Iraq; so there has to cooperation between the two for this to be successful.

Kurdpress: Will the region leave Kirkuk for Iraq?

Well that has to be negotiated. In very general terms, I would think that depending on population and position, some parts should remain in Iraq and other parts, where Kurdish majorities exist, should belong to the KRG. It has to be negotiated.

Kurdpress: The region has stated that it will just seeking to hold the referendum and it is not seeking independence?

I would assume if you’re holding the referendum it will be the advice of Kurdistan people but the final decision would have to be made by the Kurdistan government.

Kurdpress: And how would the world would react?

In general, I think, the world would be very happy. There is a lot of sympathy for the KRG. But I would want to see this done in a way that the world agrees with that and it is accepted, and not just something done in a way that is going to cause trouble than it does good.

Kurdpress: Is the same stance true with Russia and the U.S.?

As you know the U.S. is against independence but I think it would accepted if it is happened. But I don’t have any analysis on Russia but I don’t think Moscow would that much way other another.

Finally I should say that I think independence would be a real problem between Iran and the U.S. Iran does not want American bases in Kurdistan and if Kurdistan becomes independent, it will possibly have bases in Kurdistan that are right up against the Iranian frontier and that’s why I think that Iran and the U.S. should talk about this. I think there is a lot of room for the U.S. and Iran to get more cooperation with each other. The U.S. and Iran have a lot to talk about, especially with the president Donald Trump.

Interview: Parviz Lotfi

Reporter’s code: 50101