US May Cut Ties With Peshmerga if Kurdistan Referendum Goes Ahead

McGurk, Kurdistan referendum, Barzani, KRG, Kurdistan, US Coalition peshmerga
US Envoy Brett McGurk and Kurdistan Regional Government President Masoud Barzani meet in Erbil in July 2017. Image: KRG/Twitter

The United States is seeking to postpone the upcoming Iraqi Kurdistan referendum and may end ties with the region, including the Peshmerga forces, if the independence vote goes ahead, according to an official with one of the autonomous region’s political parties.

“If the referendum will take place, the United States might cut all diplomatic, military and economic ties with the Kurds,” Shunas Sherko Jdy, an official with the Gorran (Change) party’s diplomatic relations department, told The Globe Post on Wednesday.

“This is what we have been told. The kind of support they didn’t say clearly, but diplomatically it means that. They are going to, you know, ‘rearrange the kind of help you have gotten from the US,’ because the priority for the United States at this moment is fighting ISIS.”

The Peshmerga are a major partner in the U.S. Coalition operations to oust ISIS from Iraq. The force took heavy losses in the Mosul campaign, and Washington paid the Peshmerga’s salaries when the KRG was unable to.

Mr. Sherko Jdy and other members of Gorran, one of the main parties in opposition to the ruling Kurdistan Democratic Party, met on Wednesday with Brett McGurk, the U.S. Envoy to the Coalition against ISIS, in Erbil.

Gorran is in favor of a referendum to determine Iraqi Kurdistan’s future independence, but has opposed the timing of the September 25 vote, which the party maintains was determined by KDP leader and Kurdistan Regional Government President Masoud Barzani.

“From the beginning we have stated the date of the referendum was a problem,” Mr. Sherko Jdy stressed. “It was one person who decided it. We are not against Kurdish independence but we think Mr. Barzani wants to do the referendum [now] to cover up the chaos that has been happening.”

The Kurdistan Region remains in financial distress and many of its public servants have not been paid in months. Parliament was suspended in 2015 when speaker Yousif Mohammed – a Gorran member – was prevented from entering Erbil. It is scheduled to reconvene on Thursday but Mr. Sherko Jdy said Gorran MPs and Speaker Mustafa will not be in attendance.

Prompted in part by disputes with the Iraqi government over the border and budget, the KDP maintains that independence is necessary as Baghdad has not fulfilled its constitutional obligations to the Kurdistan Region.

“We do not support the planned September 25 referendum on Kurdish independence. The United States has made its opposition clear since the KRG announced the planned referendum,” a U.S. State Department spokesperson told The Globe Post.

The State Department declined to elaborate on Mr. McGurk’s meetings with the Kurdish parties, saying that they were part of his regular consolation on the anti-ISIS effort.

“In his meetings, he will emphasize the need to remain focused on the threat ISIS still poses to Iraq and the region and the importance of strong coordination for ongoing humanitarian and stabilization efforts to ensure ISIS does not return to liberated areas,” the spokesperson said.

Mr. McGurk met with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Abadi on Tuesday, leaders of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan party on Wednesday and is expected to meet other Iraqi and KRG leaders this week. Media reports have suggested that the U.S. is pushing Mr. Barzani to delay the referendum until after the Iraqi parliamentary elections next year.

The State Department has maintained that the timing of the referendum would distract from the ISIS fight. Mr. Sherko Jdy said Mr. McGurk made it clear “the U.S. is totally against the referendum, and they think if it takes place it will be a catastrophe to the region.”