A Study of the Regional Consequences of the Referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan

Document Type : Research Paper


1 Professor of Political Geography, Faculty of Geography, University of Tehran, Iran

2 PhD Candidate of Political Geography, Faculty of Geography, University of Tehran, Iran


Iraqi Kurdistan is the name of a Kurdish region located in northern Iraq that has been struggling to be separated from Iraq since the country’s independence in 1932. After years of struggle, Kurds managed to achieve a minimum level of autonomy in 1991 in the light of no-fly zone and with the support from the foreign powers. After the fall of Saddam in 2004, Kurds succeeded to turn Kurdistan into a federal region. However, with the rise of ISIS in 2014, they were challenged by the central government of Iraq. Due to their disagreement with the central government of Iraq over the budgets and territorial conflicts, Kurds held a referendum on September 25, 2017 which was accompanied by the Kurds’ vote for independence from Iraq. A descriptive-analytical research design was used in this study and the data were collected through written sources and the internet. The main question addressed in this study is: what are the possible outcomes of holding the referendum for Iraqi Kurdistan at the regional scale? In response, it should be stated that the referendum had negative political and economic consequences for them.
Results indicate that the imposed geopolitical isolation, the Turkish-Iranian trade embargo on Kurdistan and Israel's supports of the Kurdish decentralization were among the regional implications of the referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan. Therefore, given the enclosed geographical position of Iraqi Kurdistan, any action taken by the Kurds in this regard, regardless of its outcomes, is doomed to failure. 
Iraqi Kurdistan is the name of a federal regional in northern Iraq, which includes four provinces of Erbil, Dohuk, Sulaimaniyah, and Halabja. Most of the inhabitants of the area are Kurdish people. Iraqi Kurdistan was able to achieve a minimum level of autonomy in the light of the no-fly zone created after the Iraqi invasion against Kuwait in 1990 and the subsequently the deport of the Iraqi forces from Kuwait by the United States and its Western allies in 1991,. But with the US invasion against Iraq in 2003 and the positive role that the Kurds played in drafting the constitution of Iraq, Iraqi Kurdistan became a federal region. However, with the passage of several years since the establishment of the federal system in Iraqi Kurdistan and despite the positive effect that the federal system had on its economic prosperity, the Kurdish leaders decided to hold a referendum because of the conflict between the federal government of Kurdistan and the Iraqi government over the budget and disputed areas, The purpose of this study is to examine the implications of this referendum; Because this referendum, beyond geopolitical isolation, had political and economic consequences for Iraqi Kurdistan; a matter that greatly impacted the morale of the Kurdish people and invoked their reaction to bad economic and political conditions.
The most important and strongest method in experimental sciences including geography is inference (deduction). The deductive reasoning or inference discovers scientific principles through the process of reasoning which is a logical method. In fact, it is logical reasoning that supports and enhances the ideas and conceptions gained through the experimental techniques and create synthesis by developing a thesis and an antithesis. In this method, the ways of establishing a rule as a basis for the validity of that rule are explored. 
Results and Discussion
Iraqi Kurdistan with an area of 60643 square kilometers and a population of 7.6 million is a region rich in resources. The Kurds managed to achieve economic prosperity after they created a federal system in Kurdistan and established security, so that they were called the "Dubai II". However, with the rise of ISIS (2014), they encountered many problems. What exacerbated these problems was the cut off Kurdistan’s budget by Baghdad. In 2017, Iraqi Kurdistan went through a critical situation in a way that, as a result of falling oil prices, the Kurdish Trust Fund was almost emptied, and poverty hit Kurdistan and the region was on the brink of stagnation. The Kurds' demands for budget from Baghdad and Baghdad's refusal to repay Kurdish funds made the Kurds follow a different approach. In mid-2017, while ISIS was spending its final days in Iraq, and somewhat in Syria, Kurdish leaders who were worried about the post-ISIS era held a referendum. The referendum, which was accompanied by regional and global opposition, had some negative political and economic consequences for the Kurds. Imposed geopolitical isolation, a trade embargo on the Kurdistan region by neighboring countries, and Israel's support for the Kurdish divergence were some of negative implications of the referendum. 
Iraqi Kurds managed to achieve a federal system in 2004. In this system, the economic boom swept through the region due to prevailing security in Iraqi Kurdistan. But this situation did not last long due to the cutoff of the Kurdistan’s budget, the emergence of ISIS, and the controversy between Erbil and Baghdad. Iraq Kurds who were exposed to some challenges due to their conflicts over Article 140 and cutoff their budget by the Iraqi government held a referendum on September 25, 2017 despite regional and global opposition. The referendum left the Kurds at a disadvantage because the neighboring countries imposed sanctions on Kurdistan. Therefore, Kurdish leaders should refrain from any hasty action by understanding the geopolitical position of Kurdistan, because Kurdistan has no access to the Free Sea. In the second place, Iraqi Kurdistan has geopolitical affiliations with neighboring countries, and the movement of this region towards independence has stimulated Kurds in other countries. Therefore, it is natural for neighboring countries to oppose the independence of Iraqi Kurdistan. Now, given the conflicts between Erbil and Baghdad, the only solution to the current crisis is the diplomatic negotiations within the framework of the constitution of the federal Iraq state.


Main Subjects

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Volume 50, Issue 4
January 2019
Pages 1029-1047
  • Receive Date: 09 March 2018
  • Revise Date: 25 August 2018
  • Accept Date: 25 August 2018
  • First Publish Date: 22 December 2018