Secessionist Iraqi Kurdistan leaders defy Supreme Court’s ruling; reasons, consequences


Iraq’s highest judicial authority the Supreme Federal Court has decided on Monday that the September 25 secession referendum of the country’s Kurdish region is invalid constitutionally, officially annulling its result result.

“The Federal Court issued the decision to consider the Kurdish region’s referendum unconstitutional and this ruling is final,” a court spokesman Ayas al-Samuk said. “The power of this ruling should now cancel all the results of the referendum,” he added.

Briefly after the ruling, the office of the country’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi issued a statement, saying: “The government welcomes the verdict of the Supreme Federal Court that marked unconstitutional the September 25 referendum in Iraq’s Kurdistan region and invalidated all of the issues related to it including its results.” The government further stated that the ruling has boosted the Baghdad’s legal stance in favor of spread of the rule of the central government and rejection of referendum.

The PM office has called for all to do their activities within the framework of the constitution and avoid violations.

“We call upon everybody to avoid taking any step which violates the constitution and law,” the statement red.

In past few days, the Kurdish region’s leaders have shown positive approach to the expected ruling of the Supreme Federal Court, especially when they agreed with the Article 1 of the constitution that urged unity of the country, signaling that they will approve of the forthcoming verdict. But Necherwan Barzani, the Kurdistan Regional Government’s prime minister, in a press conference tacitly rejected the ruling. He maintained that the court’s verdict was reached unilaterally, without input from the KRG representatives. He added that the Kurdish region is committed to the Iraqi constitution but “the constitution is one package and must be applied in its entirety, not selectively.

The Kurdish PM also made other remarks that caught attention. “We will not discuss whether we want to cancel the result of the referendum or not. If in past years Baghdad implemented the constitution, there was no need for holding the referendum.”

He further called for a third party to oversee negotiations between Baghdad and the Kurds. “If the international community wants stability in Iraq, the constitution should be applied fully. We need a third party to this end to be present in the negotiations. We need a third party for interpretation of the Iraqi constitution because in the past 14 years many of the constitution articles were not applied. We discussed this with the American Secretary of State.”

US hands in the rift

A couple of days ago, the Kurdish officials said that they will accept the federal court’s ruling. But now, to surprise of all, they have rejected to approve the final ruling. The US role can be seen behind this Erbil shift of stance as the news reports said that Brett McGurk, the US special representative to the international anti-ISIS military coalition, travelled to Erbil just two days before the court ruling was released. He reportedly talked to various Kurdish figures and political parties. Two days later, Necherwan Barzani came among the reporters and said that he will not accept the court’s opinion. Now it is clear that the Americans have started a two-faced game about the Kurdish referendum. Having in mind that the Kurds are in a complicated situation with least degree of maneuvering potentials, a sudden shift of stance by Barzani in a case so crucial and vital for the central government cannot happen without coordination with the Americans. For Washington, the Erbil-Baghdad row should not end this easily. Rather, it should remain as a pressure tool in the hands of the White House leaders.

Dangerous equation of third party presence in Baghdad-Erbil talks

Beside direct presence of the US representative to the anti-ISIS coalition in Erbil, another mark of the counterproductive US role showed itself when the Kurdish PM urged entry of third party as a supervisor to the negotiations between the two parties. It was obvious enough that by third party Barzani meant the US.

The proposal by itself can bear a series of significant messages. First, the Iraqi government is too ineligible to independently talk to the KRG. Second, once a third party is allowed to intervene in the talks process, the independence and national sovereignty of Iraq will be severely damaged. And third, if the two sides start debating the issue in presence of a third side, the cancellation of the secession vote will be nullified.

All these signal that the proposal for a third party involvement is a risky equation to impair the central government’s campaign to stop rise of secessionist voices and guarantee the nation’s political independence.

Court ruling rejection and further Kurdish hardships

The current conditions of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region should come under focus with Barzani giving a negative response to the Supreme Federal Court’s vote. Following seizure of the oil-rich Kirkuk by the federal forces, the KRG has faced a resounding economic crisis. After all, the region has lost a hefty chunk of its incomes as rich oilfields returned to Baghdad. The seizure also inflamed massive tensions just inside Kurdistan region, with each side pointing finger of blame at the opposite side. Various parties, including the Gorran (Change) Movement, Kurdistan Islamic Movement, and newly-founded factions like New Generation Movement led by Shasawar Abdulwahid Qadir, and the Coalition for Democracy and Justice, headed by Barham Salih, called for dissolution of the present cabinet and forming a transitional government.

But the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and Necherwan Barzani are resisting the idea. By refusing the court’s ruling, Barzani steers clear of substantiation of the ideas of the anti-independence parties which now want the government to be dissolved. He knows that if he approves, his party will witness a sharp drop of votes in the region’s upcoming parliamentary election.

Therefore, at the time being, the KDP, still led by the former president Masoud Barzani, does not accede to invalidation of the plebiscite result. But this can bring forth serious consequences to the Kurdish region. After all, the central government insists that the KRG should very apparently nullify the vote outcomes. In legal terms, now Baghdad has the card of the federal court’s ruling as a backup to its agenda. It appears that as long as Erbil fails to bow to the cancellation demand, there will be no bilateral agreement. This will vividly end against the Kurdish region’s interests, and even might end up destroying all of the achievements made by Erbil over the course of past years. Moreover, in case of continuation of the dispute– possibly a new form of it should be expected–, the Kurdish people have to dearly pay the costs of Erbil’s mispolicy and the US’s roguery. While the Erbil leaders certainly grow no living concerns, the ordinary people will feel the pinch.


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