Statement by High Representative/Vice-President Federica Mogherini on the proposed Kurdish referendum in Iraq

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Series Details 19.09.17
Publication Date 19/09/2017
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In a statement from the EEAS made on the 19 September 2017 EU High Representative/Vice-President Federica Mogherini said 'The European Union reiterates its steadfast support for Iraq's unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity. Unilateral actions, such as the proposed referendum, is counterproductive and must be avoided'.

Following the referendum in a further statement issued on the 26 September 2017 a spokesperson for the High Representative said: 'The EU appeals to all parties to exercise calm and restraint and to make a renewed commitment to resolve all pending issues across the political and economic spectrum through a peaceful and constructive dialogue leading to a mutually agreed solution within the framework of the Iraqi Constitution.

Iraqi unity remains essential in order to face the remaining threat posed by Da'esh, the daunting task of reconstruction in the liberated areas, and the essential challenge of building a stable, secure, inclusive and prosperous Iraq in the interest of all Iraqi people.

The EU stands ready to support such a dialogue'.


Strengthened by its victories over ISIL/Da'esh, the government of the autonomous region of Kurdistan in Iraq announced that it planned to organise a referendum on independence.

In June 2017 Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan Region agreed to hold a referendum on independence on 25 September 2017. The question asked would be: Do you want the Kurdistan region and the Kurdistani areas outside the region's administration to become an independent state?

Negotiations with the federal Iraqi government had focused on the territorial scope of the referendum. The Kurdish leaders wanted to include the 'disputed areas', in particular Kirkuk, in the poll. However, Iraq was not keen to be cut off from this oil-rich region, which was already at the heart of a dispute on the sharing of oil revenues. The status of Mosul after it was recaptured from ISIL/Da'esh during 2016-17 was also under discussion.

Even if the referendum were to take place and the 'yes' side won, it was not certain that a Kurdish state would emerge. Such a state would be weakened by internal divisions and poor economic conditions. In addition, Syria, Turkey and Iran, neighbouring countries that have complex relations with Iraqi Kurdistan, are worried that an independent Kurdish state would encourage their own Kurdish populations to seek greater autonomy. Yet, the perspective of a Greater Kurdistan is remote, since the regional Kurdish landscape is dominated by the PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party) and its affiliates, which do not share Iraqi Kurdish leaders' ideology or strategic alliances.

As for the EU and the great world powers, although they considered Iraqi Kurdistan to be a reliable ally in the fight against ISIL/Da'esh (again recently in the battle for Mosul), they did not want to openly back the fragmentation of the Middle-East.

Despite threats and warnings from the international community, Iraqi Kurds turned out in large numbers on the 25 September 2017 to cast their votes in the referendum. The UN expressed concern about the vote's destabilising effects.

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Related Links
The Conversation, 27.09.17: Kurdistan: after vote for independence, what’s next?
UK: Parliament: House of Commons: Foreign Affairs Committee: Inquiry: Kurdish aspirations and the interests of the UK, 2017
Euro|Topics: Debates, October 2017: What do the Kurds have to lose in Kirkuk?
Blog: Verfassungsblog, 22.10.17: The Kurdistan Independence Referendum and Constitutional Self-Determination
Blog: Verfassungsblog, 28.09.17: On Legal Aspects of the Independence Referendum of Iraqi Kurdistan
EP: EPRS: Briefing, October 2017: Iraqi Kurdistan's independence referendum
PISM: PISM Bulletin, No.87, September 2017: Context and Scenarios after the Referendum on Iraqi Kurdistan’s Independence
EU: EEAS: Statement, 26.09.17: Statement of the Spokesperson on the referendum held by the Kurdistan Regional Government
The Independent, 11.10.17: Kurdistan: Iraqi court orders arrest of organisers of Kurdish independence vote
Blog: The Brookings Institution, 02.11.17: Masoud Barzani and the roots of Kurdish distrust of the United States
The Atlantic, 31.10.17: The Kurds Are Right Back Where They Started
BBC News, 26.09.17: Iraqi Kurdistan referendum: High turnout in independence vote
Deutsche Welle, 26.09.17: High turnout in Iraqi Kurdish independence vote despite pressure
UN: Press Release, 25.09.17: Secretary-General Expresses Concern about Potentially Destabilizing Effects of Referendum in Iraq’s Kurdistan Region
Blog: LSE EuroppBlog, 02.11.17: Why journalists should not use the expression ‘semi-autonomous’ (or ‘semiautonomous’)
ECFR: Commentary, 23.09.17: Iraqi Kurdish referendum: Let the tempest pass
Al Jazeera, 23.09.17: Barzani: Kurd region poll to occur despite opposition
BBC News, 22.09.17: Iraqi Kurdish referendum: UN warns of 'destabilising impact'
BBC News, 18.09.17: What is at stake in Iraqi Kurdish vote for independence?
Chatham House: Explainer, 20.09.17: Kurdish Referendum (Video)
EurActiv, 15.09.17: Iraq, Turkey step up pressure over Kurdish independence vote
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The Brookings Institute: Blog, 13.09.17: As independence vote nears, Iraqi Kurds play a risky game of chicken
The Guardian, 16.09.17: Iraqi leader warns Kurds over independence referendum violence
The Guardian, 22.09.17: [Editorial]: The Guardian view on the Kurdish referendum: a fair question
Wikipedia: Iraqi Kurdistan independence referendum, 2017,_2017
ICG: Q&A, 28.09.18: Iraqi Kurdistan’s Regional Elections Test a Brittle Status Quo

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