The weeks leading up to the independence referendum by the Iraqi Kurds were tense. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi warned the region against trying to leave the country, stating the referendum was unconstitutional and thus wouldn’t be recognized. Furthermore, he said his government would not engage the Kurdistan Regional Government in any talks until the referendum was called off.
Despite these warnings from the Iraqi government, the Kurds still moved forward with the referendum.
The result was overwhelming in favor of secession, with 92% of 3.3 million eligible Kurd and non-Kurd voters voting to leave the country.
How this will be addressed going forward will be interesting. Beyond the warning of the Prime Minister, the Supreme Court also said the referendum should be called off. In defying major elements of the Iraqi government, the KRG called their bluff and likely will have escalated tensions.
Outside of Iraq, many countries look to the country as the Middle East continues to be in a state of chaos. This unrest very well could lead to civil war. Depending on how hard Iraq pushes and the Kurds resist, it could even become violent.
At that point, how would the world react?
Countries like the United States have an interest in a stable Iraq, given they waged war to overthrow Saddam Hussein a decade and a half ago. Will they defend the Iraqi government in words and diplomacy? Will they react with military support?
The Kurdish push for independence is a defining moment for them, but it could also have serious implications for regional stability and could lead to war. Once again, all eyes will be on Iraq going forward.