While the voting was still underway on Monday, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres voiced his worries over the “potentially destabilizing effects” of a controversial referendum on the independence of the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region from Iraq’s central government.
“The Secretary-General respects the sovereignty, territorial integrity and unity of Iraq and considers that all outstanding issues between the federal Government and the Kurdistan Regional Government should be resolved through structured dialogue and constructive compromise,” said Guterres’ spokesman, Stéphane Dujarric, on Monday.
Also on Monday, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem has rejected the independence referendum by Iraq’s Kurds as “unacceptable,” stressing that Damascus only recognizes a unified Iraq. “We reject any action that leads to the fragmentation of Iraq…This step is unacceptable and we do not recognize it,” he added.
Earlier in the day, Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Qasemi told reporters that the Kurdish independence vote could “lead to developments and happenings that could affect all people of the region, particularly Kurdish people.” Qasemi reiterated that Iran supports the “territorial integrity and democratic process” in Iraq.
Reactions continued on Tuesday, as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) President Masoud Barzani that pushing for independence risked sparking an “ethnic war” in the region.
“If Barzani and the Kurdish Regional Government do not go back on this mistake as soon as possible, they will go down in history with the shame of having dragged the region into an ethnic and sectarian war,” Erdogan said in a televised speech.
Separately, the US said that it was “deeply disappointed” by the Iraqi Kurdistan’s “unilateral” independence referendum, adding it would increase “hardships” for people living in the region.
“We believe this step will increase instability and hardships for the Kurdistan region and its people,” the State Department said in a statement on Monday, shortly after the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) defied international pressure to cancel the vote.
In Iran, Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces Major General Mohammad Hossein Baqeri blamed Israel for orchestrating a plot to hold the independence referendum in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region. “The Zionist regime of Israel and the global arrogance are behind the referendum in Iraq’s Kurdistan,” Major General Baqeri said in a gathering of Iran’s Intelligence Ministry personnel on Monday.
At the same time, Iran’s Air Defense has intensified activities along the country’s western borders, deploying new missile equipment there, a ranking commander said. Lieutenant Commander of Khatam al-Anbia Air Defense Base General Alireza Elhami announced on Tuesday that additional missile equipment has been deployed to the Western areas to strengthen the air defense coverage of the border regions.
On the other hand, Iraqi army has commenced major military drills with Turkish military along the common border. Iraq’s Defense Ministry said in a statement carried by the Arabic-language al-Sumeria television news agency on Monday that “Lieutenant General Othman al-Ghanmi, the army’s chief of staff, announced the start of large-scale Iraqi-Turkish military exercises along the common border between the two countries.”
All in all, it could be said that while Iraq’s Kurds rushed headlong into a vote for independence on Monday, all neighbors and countries in the Middle East have voiced opposition to the vote and supported the Baghdad central government. Could these oppositions bring about a result in terms of taking the developments back to the normal on the Kurdish issue?