US urges Iraq’s Kurdistan to call off independence referendum

Iraqi Kurds fly Kurdish flags during an event to urge people to vote in the upcoming independence referendum in Irbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq, on September 15, 2017. (AFP / SAFIN HAMED)
Updated 16 September 2017
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US urges Iraq’s Kurdistan to call off independence referendum

WASHINGTON: The US put to one side its longstanding sympathy for its allies in Iraqi Kurdistan on Friday and sternly urged the region to call off its independence referendum.
Earlier, Iraqi Kurdish lawmakers had voted to approve the September 25 vote that was set in motion by regional President Massud Barzani, a Washington ally who has publicly kept open the option of postponing it.
Washington has long supported Kurdish autonomy and has relied on the region’s forces in the war against the Daesh group, but it fears that now is not the time for the people to seize their freedom.
US officials fear the vote, while not legally binding, will hurt Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi’s re-election chances; complicate ties with Turkey; and disrupt the war against Daesh.
“The United States has repeatedly emphasized to the leaders of the Kurdistan Regional Government that the referendum is distracting from efforts to defeat ISIS and stabilize the liberated areas,” President Donald Trump’s White House said, in a statement.
“Holding the referendum in disputed areas is particularly provocative and destabilizing,” it warned. While Baghdad recognizes Kurdistan’s autonomy, the precise boundary between the region and the rest of Iraq is unclear.
Washington has repeatedly offered to help negotiate a long-term settlement between Irbil and Baghdad, but regional leaders — including Barzani — have been increasingly frustrated that warm words have not led to a precise diplomatic timetable.
This week, top US envoy Brett McGurk was again in Irbil and attempted to persuade the Kurdish leader to call off the highly charged popular vote in exchange for a new diplomatic initiative.
Under this plan, a well-placed source told AFP, the international community will oversee negotiations on revenue sharing in Iraq’s oil budget and payment for Kurdish militia fighters.
Borders and military forces would remain in their current positions, and Baghdad would authorize Kurdistan to continue exporting the oil that it currently ships through Turkey in breach of the federal constitution.
Finally, Kurdish parties would take part in the Iraqi government and the 2018 elections.
Analysts, however, told AFP that this would not be enough at this stage to convince Barzani to hold off on an independence vote in which he has invested much of his domestic political capital.
“They were very unlikely to accept a deal unless the deal had some kind of iron-clad specificity and international guarantee,” said Michael Knights, an Iraq expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
“The leaders of the US, Britain and the United Nations would have had to commit to the date by which Kurdistan and Iraq would have negotiated Kurdish sovereignty — or commit to supporting a Kurdish unilateral declaration of independence.”
Accordingly, and in the face of bitter opposition from Baghdad, 65 out of 68 lawmakers present voted in favor of the September 25 poll as opposition members boycotted the parliament’s first session in two years.
After the show of hands, lawmakers stood to sing the Kurdish anthem while others raised flags to the sound of applause.
The vote was to give a legal framework to the referendum that has also stirred protests from neighboring states, especially Turkey.
The session was the regional parliament’s first in two years, and Barzani’s mandate as president of the autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq officially expired in 2015.
The Kurdish leadership, made up of Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) of Iraq’s former president Jalal Talabani, have maintained that the three-year-old battle to drive back Daesh has made it impossible to hold fresh elections.
Two opposition parties — the independent Goran, which has 24 seats in the 111-seat parliament, and Jamaa Islamiya, which is close to Iran and holds six seats — had said they would boycott the session.
Friday’s session in Irbil followed two anti-referendum votes which passed earlier this week in the national parliament in Baghdad, both of which were boycotted by Kurdish legislators.
Analysts say the referendum plan, which has stirred Arab-Kurdish ethnic tensions, could mark the end of an era of cooperation during which Baghdad and Irbil battled Daesh together after it seized swathes of northern and western Iraq in the summer of 2014.
Turkey and Iran fear the referendum could stoke separatist aspirations among their own sizeable Kurdish minorities.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned the vote could prove “a very, very bad thing” for the Iraqi Kurds, whose economy is heavily dependent on oil exports via a pipeline running through Turkey.
Turkey’s National Security Council will meet on September 22 to decide its official position.
On Thursday, the Baghdad parliament fired the governor of the northern province of Kirkuk, Najm Eddine Karim, over his provincial council’s decision to take part in the non-binding Kurdish referendum.
The oil-rich province is disputed by Baghdad and Irbil and home to diverse communities including Arabs and Turkmens who oppose the vote.
Iraqi Kurdistan, whose people were brutally repressed under Saddam Hussein, won autonomy following the dictator’s ouster in a US-led invasion, under a 2005 constitution which set up a federal republic in Iraq.


Sudan’s military council, opposition coalition agree political accord

Updated 17 July 2019
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Sudan’s military council, opposition coalition agree political accord

  • The constitutional declaration is expected to be signed on Friday
  • The deal aims to help the political transition in Sudan

KHARTOUM: Sudan’s ruling military council and an opposition alliance signed a political accord on Wednesday as part of a power-sharing deal aimed at leading the country to democracy following three decades of autocratic rule.

The agreement, which ended days of speculation about whether a deal announced earlier this month would hold, was initialed in Khartoum in the presence of African mediators following a night of talks to iron out some details of the agreement.

Sudan’s stability is crucial for the security of a volatile region stretching from the Horn of Africa to Libya that is riven by conflict and power struggles.

The deal is meant to pave the way to a political transition after military leaders ousted former President Omar Al-Bashir in April following weeks of protests against his rule.

At least 128 people were killed during a crackdown that began when security forces dispersed a protest camp outside the Defense Ministry in central Khartoum in June, according to medics linked to the opposition. The Health Ministry had put the death toll at 61.

A political standoff between Sudan’s military rulers and protesters threatened to drag the country of 40 million toward further violence before African mediators managed to bridge the gap between the two sides.

General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, the deputy head of Sudan’s Transitional Military Council, hailed the agreement as the start of a new partnership between the armed forces, including the paramilitary forces he leads, and the opposition coalition of Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC).

Ibrahim Al-Amin, an FFC leader, said the accord signaled a new era of self-reliance for Sudan’s people.

“We want a stable homeland, because we have suffered a great deal,” Amin said in a speech after the ceremony.

Ethiopian mediator Mahmud Dirir said Sudan, long under international isolation over the policies of Bashir’s Islamist administration, needed to overcome poverty and called for the country to be taken of a US list of states that support terrorism.

The sides are still working on a constitutional declaration, which is expected to be signed on Friday.

Power-sharing deal

Under the power-sharing deal reached earlier this month, the two sides agreed to share power in a sovereign council during a transitional period of just over three years.

They also agreed to form an independent government of technocrats to run the country and to launch a transparent, independent investigation into the violence.

The power-sharing agreement reached earlier this month called for a sovereign council comprised of 11 members — five officers selected by the military council, five civilians chosen by the FFC and another civilian to be agreed upon by both sides.

The constitutional declaration will now decide the duties and responsibilities of the sovereign council.

The military was to head the council during the first 21 months of the transitional period while a civilian would head the council during the remaining 18 months.

But the agreement was thrown into doubt when new disputes surfaced last week over the military council’s demand for immunity for council members against prosecution.

The military council also demanded that the sovereign council would retain ultimate decision-making powers rather than the government.