Kurds plan referendum on independence

It’s not as if no one saw this coming. Last week, Masoud Barzani told CNN that the time had arrived for Kurds to go their own way, a comment that prompted a visit from John Kerry to argue that “united Iraq is a stronger Iraq.” Clearly, the Kurds don’t agree — or perhaps more accurately, consider a “united Iraq” a moot point:

The president of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan Region has told the BBC he intends to hold a referendum on independence within months.

Massoud Barzani said that Iraq was already “effectively partitioned”.

While the Kurds would play a part in a political solution to the crisis caused by jihadist-led Sunni Arab rebellion, independence was their right, he added.

And it might just be the default position anyway. Iraq’s parliament met today to pick a new government after the recent elections, which favored Nouri al-Maliki — but that was before ISIS swept across Iraq and the army folded under the pressure. Iraq desperately needs leadership that can hold the Sunnis and Kurds in a coalition with the majority Shi’ites against the Sunni extremists that now threaten to sack Baghdad. Faced with this existential threat, the parliament … punted:

Iraq’s inaugural session of parliament failed on Tuesday to agree on the formation of a new government, dampening hopes that the country’s fractious politicians will rise to the challenge presented by the raging insurgency tearing their country apart.

After a brief and at times chaotic meeting, Mehdi al-Hafidh, the acting speaker of the newly elected parliament, adjourned the session until next week, citing the lack of a quorum in the 328-member chamber after Kurdish and Sunni lawmakers withdrew. …

But tensions quickly surfaced after a Kurdish lawmaker and a Shiite one exchanged barbs over the central government’s failure to make budget payments to the autonomous region of Kurdistan. Then a rift among Sunnis emerged over who their parliamentarians will support for the job of speaker.  After a short break, Kurds and some of the Sunnis failed to return to the chamber, leaving the session without the required two-thirds of its members to proceed.

Despite the urgency, and despite the time since the election, none of the three caucuses have managed to pick their own leadership. The Iraqi parliament has a reputation for going to the last minute and beyond for these decisions, a track record that frustrated the US to no end for several years during the occupation period. In this case, though, the Iraqi parliament’s lack of action threatens to run smack into another, entirely different kind of occupation if the country’s leadership can’t get it together.

Small wonder that the Kurds want to pursue independence rather than deal with the fractious Iraq coalition. With Turkey endorsing Kurdish independence in a historic reversal and even Israel at least backing it in theory, what’s the hold-up? Three guesses:

The head of a Kurdish political party told The Jerusalem Post that he thanks Israel’s leaders for their support for an independent Kurdistan and that the US is keeping the Kurds from gaining independence.

The ironies just multiply. The US wants Iraq to remain as a cohesive state, but the Shi’ites under Maliki have made that all but impossible — for which the Obama administration rightly blames Maliki, although the withdrawal of US forces left the political vacuum which Maliki exploited. However, the same administration whose Vice President once insisted on breaking up Iraq into three sectarian/ethnic territories now wants the Kurds to keep submitting to the Shi’ite majority. We’ve come a long way, baby.

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