The KRG’s independence referendum should be treated as a tactical bid to unify the Iraqi Kurds and strengthen their position toward Baghdad, but without jettisoning their gradualist approach.
This fall, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) plans to hold a referendum on independence that it says will start a process of secession from Iraq. Despite this clear declaration of intent, however, the vote will not constitute a decision to secede. In fact, if handled correctly it could postpone any real action toward separation from Iraq, put the KRG back on a democratic trajectory, and soothe regional fears about disputed territories and other issues. U.S. engagement before the referendum and throughout the subsequent negotiations between Erbil and Baghdad would likewise alleviate regional concerns, and officials on both sides welcome such a role.