Time For Kurdexit From Iraq

The Brexit symbolizes a nation's will for defending its national identity and protecting itself from excessive bureaucracy. The referendum result, however, has infused a soul-searching quest in Europe and beyond; Some in Scotland are calling for a second referendum to exit from the UK. The Kurdistan Region of Iraq has a similar narrative: It wants to separate from Iraq. Unlike Europe, however, the notion of independence is vehemently rejected by some of the regional powers.

The American University of Kurdistan (AUK) and the Institute for Media and Political Research (IMPR) in August 2016 conducted a face-to-face survey in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq to measure the level of support for independence.

The results revealed that 84.3 percent of Kurds favor separating from Iraq. Moreover, 78.6 percent of the non-Kurdish ethnic and religious groups in the predominately Kurdish areas south of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) borders, known as the disputed areas, want their regions to join KRG, and 78.6 percent support the notion of Kurdistan's independence.

The stability and the democratic experience of the Kurdistan Region could be the key reasons why the non-Kurdish ethnic and religious groups chose Kurdistan over Baghdad.

Undeniably, UK's predicament is less complicated than the Kurdish question.

Polls in the UK indicate that erosion of sovereignty and excessive migration were the main reasons why most Britons voted to leave the European Union (EU). Meanwhile, as most Scots did not want to leave the EU, 62%, some are calling for a second referendum to exit the UK as they prefer remaining in the EU.

On the other hand, the Kurdish quest for independence is a century old struggle. Following the fall of the Ottoman Empire, Kurdistan was forcibly partitioned and annexed into Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and Syria as a result of the Sykes-Picot Agreement, a secret treaty between Great Britain and France in 1916.

Similar to the other parts of Kurdistan, we, the Kurds of Iraq, have experienced tyranny and genocide at the hands of former Iraqi regimes, especially under Saddam Hussein's rule.

The oppression, however, continues in a new form today. Baghdad has become overly bureaucratic and has imposed an economic embargo on the Kurdistan Region, causing financial distress.

Consequently, in our hearts, we have not accepted the notion of being Iraqis. To us, Iraq as a state has been a failure since its inception.

On that premise, the Kurdish ambition to separate from Iraq is a natural right that any nation would desire.

Consequently, the President of the Kurdistan Region, Massoud Barzani, has called upon the Kurdish political parties to prepare for a referendum. On the centennial anniversary of the Sykes-Picot Agreement, Barzani stated, "we must acknowledge the new realities; citizenship has not been developed; borders and sovereignty have become meaningless, the Sykes-Picot agreement is over."

Further, on his trip to Europe in early September, Kurdistan's independence was the central topic in President Barzani's discussions with European officials.

The opponents of Kurdish independence, though, argue that Kurds would be better off as Iraqi nationals, and some argue that the timing is not right. But, anyone with a bit of knowledge about the history of Iraq would disagree.

Iraq has been in a state of perpetual war since its foundation. It has no national identity as is divided along sectarian and ethnic lines. IntelCenter, a private counterterrorism intelligence agency, ranked it as the second most dangerous country in the world and Transparency International ranked it among the top ten most corrupted countries in 2015.

Above all, empirical data (a study conducted by Chapman and Roeder at the University of California San Diego) finds partition as the best option for ending nationalist wars as it reduces the recurrence of violence considerably.

All things considered, our painful struggle in Iraq enables us to view the Brexit as a source of inspiration. While the EU referendum has caused mix reactions throughout Europe, the democratic right to decide through a referendum is respected by most Europeans.

Unfortunately, the ongoing calamity in the Middle East confirms that human rights and international laws are meaningless.

The Middle East should consider embracing the liberal democratic values practiced in the West as a solution for resolving decades of turmoil. The stability and prosperity of Western world confirm granting freedom to citizens to "determine their political status and [to] freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development" will likely help stabilize the Middle East.

Accordingly, Baghdad and the global players ought to respect the aspiration of Kurds and view partition as a viable solution for ending wars, rather than a destabilizing factor.

In the words of Woodrow Wilson, "National aspirations must be respected; people may now be dominated and governed only by their own consent. Self-determination is not a mere phrase; it is an imperative principle of action. . . . "

Delovan Barwari is the Editor-in-Chief of Kurdistan24 English