Kurdistan Region President Massoud Barzani speaking to the BBC.
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – A referendum to decide on independence for the autonomous Kurdistan Region in northern Iraq “is a question of months,” Kurdish President Massoud Barzani told the BBC in an interview.
“I cannot fix a date right now but it’s a question of months,” Barzani said about a referendum, adding it was up to the Kurdish parliament to decide on the date.
“I have said many times that independence is a natural right of the people of Kurdistan. All these developments (in Iraq) reaffirm that, and from now on we will not hide that the goal of Kurdistan is independence,” he told the BBC.
His words came as MPs in Baghdad opened the new session of parliament on time on Tuesday, following elections that preceded the current turmoil. But it remained in session only until the Kurdish and Sunni blocs walked out, after the Shiites failed to come up with any name to replace Nouri al-Maliki as prime minister.
Maliki, who squeezed himself into a second term and looks determined to shoehorn himself into a third, appears amazingly out of touch, as Iraq falls apart before a cocktail of bulldozing forces that include Sunni jihadis, an al-Qaeda offshoot and loyalists of Saddam Hussein’s ousted military.
Riding on the crest of a Sunni insurgency they ignited, within weeks the insurgents have crushed the Iraqi army and taken control of large sweeps of territory, including the second-largest city, Mosul, and Anbar province, the largest.
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), an al-Qaeda offshoot fighting in both countries, has declared an Islamic State from Aleppo in Syria to Diyala in Iraq.
Barzani’s words confirmed that the division of Iraq is no longer a fear: it is happening.
"Iraq is effectively partitioned now; should we stay in this tragic situation that Iraq is living?” Barzani told the BBC. “Of course, we are all with our Arab and Sunni brothers together in this crisis, but that doesn’t mean that we will abandon our goal,” he said.
“The latest events have established that this is the solution. We can’t go back to the previous situation. We can’t experiment with our fate for another 10 years. We can’t remain hostages to an unknown future,” Barzani added.
Meanwhile, the United Nations reported that the death toll for June, in all of Iraq except Anbar province, was 2,417 people, three times more than the 799 killed in May, before the insurgents began their advance. Most of those killed in June – 1,500 – were civilians.
After Iraqi troops collapsed and retreated from the north in face of the jihadi-led advance, Kurdish Peshmerga forces moved into the oil-rich city of Kirkuk -- which the Kurds have always seen as the capital of a future homeland -- and into other disputed areas in the provinces of Nineveh and Diyala.
The three province Kurdistan Region – Erbil, Sulaimani and Duhok -- achieved autonomy from Iraq effectively in 2003.
Iraq’s five million Kurds, who suffered what is internationally being recognized as genocide under Saddam Hussein, have long yearned for an independent homeland. Until now, that dream has been opposed not only by neighboring Iran, Turkey and Syria – each with millions of minority Kurds – but by the United States as well.
The US has sent in 200 troops to secure its embassy in Baghdad, the largest in the world. But with the West unwilling to step in militarily to help Maliki, the prime minister has turned to Iran, Syria and Russia, which are reportedly providing arms troops and advisors.
Barzani said that an independent Kurdistan would be a threat to no one: “We will have the best of relations with all the neighbors and we will not be a threat to anyone at all, I’m sure.”