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Iraqi Kurdish Referendum and Other Stories

September 25, 2017
Weekly Roundup
4 min read
Iraqi Kurdish Referendum and Other Stories

Dear friends, 

It’s rare to hear Iran and the United States agreeing on anything these days, but here’s an exception: today, Iraqi Kurds will vote in an independence referendum. There has been huge debate on the vote, and most of the international community, including the US, Iran and Turkey, and even the government of Iraq, has condemned the move. Iraq’s highest court ruled that it shouldn’t go ahead, and even some within the Kurdish community argue that it’s not the right time to hold a referendum. In IranWire’s series of interviews on the historic vote, Arash Azizi talked to leading experts, diplomats, and policy advisors about the referendum and what it will mean for the wider world. We have a much broader coverage in the Persian site. One more reason for you to learn Persian I guess... 

Among those Arash Azizi spoke to is American diplomat Peter Galbraith, who was one of the first to speak out about the treatment of the Kurds under Saddam Hussein, and whose experience working with Croatia in its early days of independence gives him a unique perspective. He supports the vote, arguing that the Kurds have waited a hundred years for this opportunity. But former American diplomat and professor Daniel Serwer says it’s not the right time, and that it will actually “give credence” to Vladimir Putin’s visions of taking Ukraine and Georgia back into the Russian fold. 

IranWire also looks at Israel’s support for the Kurds, and spoke to a number of former Israeli officials and academics. Former Israeli colonel Dr. Jacques Neriah, an advisor to the late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, says Kurdish independence could be a stabilizing force in the region, and that Israel has a moral obligation to support the Kurds. Dr. Neriah says the referendum is the first step toward a larger vision of Kurdistan. “The ultimate goal is to be witness to a Kurdish nation extending on all territories with Kurdish [as the] main presence,” he says. Another Israeli academic, Ofra Bengio, says there is “spontaneous” support among Israelis for the Kurds, not least because the Kurds helped Iraqi Jews leave the country in the 1970s. Despite objections, she says that behind the scenes, there is significant support for the referendum from Arab states, and that Saudi Arabia will even get on board. After all, she argues, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf State see Kurdistan as a “buffer” to Iran. But while Bengio says the referendum could bring prosperity to the region, academic Idan Barir warns of potential damage to the Kurds’ economic ties in the region. Barir, who is an expert on the Yazidis, says the vote will be bad news for this small and vulnerable minority, who endured hideous atrocities at the hands of ISIS after the Kurds retreated from their villages in Mosul and Sinjar in 2014. 

Of course, Iran has an interest in what happens not just because of the politics of the region, but also because many Iranians work in Kurdistan — including sex workers. They use 15-day visas travel to Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. IranWire spoke to Iranian sex workers about the sex trade there, including to one woman who sold her virginity for $3,000. 

And what about the history of Kurdish prisoners in Iran? Before the revolution, Zagros Khosravi served a long sentence in the shah’s most notorious jails. A former Kurdish party leader in Iran’s Kurdish regions, he talked to IranWire about torture in prison, and how the culture of intimidation that exists in Iran today. 

Former senior Mossad official Elizeir Geizi Tsafrir also says that an independent Kurdistan could mean greater stability in the region, and that the Kurds absolutely have the capacity to organize and coordinate such a shift. “Most Israelis wish the best for the Kurds and believe that perhaps this unstable situation in the area, in Syria and Iraq, will finally bring up an independent Kurdish state,” he says. 

Although a yes vote doesn’t necessarily mean an independent Kurdistan is imminent, it could set in motion the beginning of a new political and economic landscape, and perhaps lead to some uncomfortable shifts for Iran and its neighbors. IranWire will be watching, and reporting on, how the situation develops and what it means for Iranians.

As always, please let me know if you have any comments. 

Warm regards, 



What Can Israel do for the Kurds?

September 23, 2017
Arash Azizi
7 min read
What Can Israel do for the Kurds?