On September 25, a referendum took place to support or reject the independence of Basur (Iraqi Kurdistan). The consultation was called by the government of Massoud Barzani, president of the current autonomous region.

By Alejandro Iturbe.


According to the data, 3.4 million people participated, of which 91.8% voted for the YES. When the results were informed, the Kurdish population celebrated on the streets of Basur cities.

Before the referendum, the Supreme Court of Iraq had ordered its cancellation, but this was not accepted by Basur’s government. After the referendum, the Iraqi Prime Minister, Haidar al Abadi, threatened with sending the army in case of a declaration of independence. Barzani responded that “there will be no immediate independence” and proposed “the beginning of serious conversations with Bagdad” to get to an agreement and delimitate borders.

When the referendum was called, we had already written an article that had not been published yet. We reproduce it here because we consider that the concepts are completely valid.

In the article “On the Kurdish people struggle”[1] we analyzed that “Currently, in Iraq, the Kurdish live a particular situation. In this country, they occupy the North part of the region, [R.N – they call it Basur, which means South Kurdistan] one of the richest zones in oil in the current Iraqi territory.”

The main political organization is the PDK (Democratic Party of the Kurdistan,) an organization that esentially represents the Kurdish bourgeoisie of the region. When the imperialist invasion occurred, in 2003, the leadership of the PDK, led by Massoud Barzani[2] joint the coalition of forces led by the US imperialism that invaded Iraq and defeated the regime of Saddam Hussein.

Once Saddam was defeated, the Iraqi Constitution of 2005 defined Basur as “autonomous federative entity” with the right to choose their own government and parliament, and also to have their own foreign relationships. During the entire period of occupation, there were always Kurdish representatives in the pro-imperialist government. Even Jalal Talabani, a Kurdish, got to be president of the country.

In fact, the PDK administrated its own State (whose capital was in the city of Erbil,) although formally this territory is still part of Iraq. Later, the military forces of Basur (the peshmergas) managed to stop the Islamic State offensive in Mosul and keep their territory intact.

Inside the Kurdish universe, they are a privileged bourgeoisie: they went from receiving 13% to 30% of the extract-export oil revenues of the region. This, together with a good agrarian production, made it one of the richest bourgeoisies in Iraq, with a very solid economy.

This is the base on which the PDK relies, a party which is not only bourgeois as it became an organization clearly linked to the US imperialism. An important data to characterize this party and its government: Basur is the main oil exporter to Turkey, where Erdogan’s government oppresses and represses millions of Kurdish.

At the same time, the pressure for Kurdish unity is so strong that Barzani’s government was forced to send weapons to Kobane (although through imperialist planes) and to allow for battalions of peshmergas to fight ISIS hand on hand with their Kurdish brothers in Rojava.

Instability grows

Nevertheless, despite the privileged situation, political instability has grown in Basur. President Barzani renewed his mandate without an election, he closed the Parliament until October, and he expelled the president of this institution from the capital (Erbil).

The media talks about demonstrations against the government in the West and South regions of the country, and about a re-emerging process of the UPK’s influence in these regions (a fraction of the PDK defeated by it in a civil war that took place between 1994 and 1997,) and even of the Rojavan PYD-PKK. An additional element is that Barzani’s government received very harsh criticism by the Yazidi community (an Iraqi-Kurdish minority, non-Muslim,) which accuses him of not defending them against ISIS in the past, nor against the Central Iraqi government, in the present.

The backstage of this instability and discontent seems to be a decline of the economy originated in the decrease of oil international prices. This caused an important reduction of the percentage of oil revenues that go to Basur’s bourgeoisie, and it caused a strong dispute with the Central Iraqi government, which reduced Basur’s part to the minimum. As a response, the Central Iraqi government has not been paying the wages of a parcel of Kurdish employees that depend on it for several months, now.[3]

The Independence referendum

In this frame, Barzani’s government announced the call for a referendum to approve Basur’s independence, after which the Parliament would be re-opened.[4] Considering it is Brazani and the PDK, it is really hard to know if they are really willing to move forward in this direction (to maintain the parcel of oil revenues that they now deliver to Iraq Central Government,) if it is a rehearsal, or if it is just a maneuver to ride out the current “weather” of opposition. We will know this only in a few months.

But, Barzani’s announcement had already generated strong debates. First, among the Kurdish universe. The website Rojava Azadi (published by Rojava Kurdish) posted two articles with opposite stand regarding this possible independence.

The first one expresses the official stand of the site (close to the PYD-PKK) and gives several arguments against:

  1. There is still no Kurdish military strength to face the consequences of such decision: a possible attack by the Iraqi army (supported by Irani troops) that would defend Iraq’s unity.
  2. This “independent state” would be under the guardianship of Turkey regarding its economy (oil exports) and its military.
  3. One cannot trust the alliance with imperialism, as in the Treaty of Lausanne[5] (1923) it delivered the Kurdish as a tradeable currency.
  4. Thus, it characterizes the referendum as a maneuver of Barzani before his weakening.

There is another reason, not explicit, in the second article that supports Barzani’s call and the independence referendum: the dispute between the PDK and the PKK for the political leadership of the Kurdish as a whole.[6]

In this text, the author states, “An Iraqi Kurdish State would be a rational and useful enterprise (…) that would favor peace in the region” because it would help to control the confrontations in other countries, especially Turkey. He considers that the excellent relationships between Brazani and the Turkish government of Erdogan would be in favor, and not against, the project. Beyond this judgment, the article provides interesting elements regarding these relationships (added to the already mentioned fact that Basur is Turkey’s main oil provider):

“Ankara and Erbil keep State-to-State relationships and cooperate in every field, economic, political, and even military and strategic. The private Turkish sector is active in Erbil and Dohuk (energy and construction). On the military level, Ankara has had military bases in the autonomous Kurdish region for over 20 years. During the last meeting of the Turkish and Iraqi Kurd presidents in Ankara (…) Erdogan and Barzani saluted, for the first time in Turkish History, both the Turkish and the Kurdish flags, hand on hand, for the greatest satisfaction of the Kurdish in Iraq.”

To the author, the main obstacle in this way is the PKK and its guerrilla methods. On the contrary, the possible way would be to support the stand of the Kurdish-Turkish party HDO (Peace and Democracy Party): to abandon the demands of autonomy and self-determination, to bet on its growth in the Turkish Parliament, and to win the municipalities of the Kurdish region in Turkey. So, a policy of agreements with Erdogan.

The Turkish bourgeoisie, as we saw, is doing very good businesses with the bourgeoisie of Basur expressed in the figure of Brazani (a relationship of subordination of the latest by the former). They even receive him as a Chief of State. An independent Basur led by Barzani would deepen this dynamic and could benefit Erdogan a lot: on one side, Barzani would be a full ally to lower the tension with the Turkish Kurdish, to push them to negotiate and defeat the PKK (or at least break it or co-opt it), encouraging the development of a Kurdish-Turkish bourgeoisie that could mediate these businesses.

On the other hand, an independent Basur would weaken Iraq and the influence of the regime of Irani Ayatollahs in the country, favoring Turkey in the dispute for regional influence against Iran. The strong contradiction that Erdogan faces is that the independence of Basur could strengthen the Rojava process and also boost the will of struggle on autonomy by the Kurdish in Turkey.

Imperialism itself is debating this, already. The director of the United States Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), Lieutenant general Vincent Stewart, warned the Senate of the US: ““Kurdish independence is on a trajectory where it is probably not if but when. And it will complicate the situation unless there’s an agreement in Baghdad,” In the same report, he highlighted “the importance of dialogue between the Bagdad government and the authorities of the Iraqi Kurdistan for a mutual understanding and consensus of the parts on the matter of independence of the region.[7]

Let’s mention that the DIA is just a consulting agency which does not define the US foreign policy. However, its stand is an important indication and its proposal can be reinforced by the increasing distance and friction between the Trump administration and the Iraqi regime of Ayatollahs.

Our stand

What should be our stand regarding this possible independence? As we pointed out in the article of 2016, “this goal [Basur’s independence] is, in itself, progressive; a step forward in the struggle of this people, because it means a supporting point for the Kurdish struggle as a whole. However, in Barzani’s hands and the PDK’s, it means to leave aside the struggle for the construction of a unified Kurdish state and to abandon the Kurdish in Turkey, Iran, and Syria to their own luck.”

In other words, we defend and support the right to independence. Even more if, after declared, it is militarily attacked. In such case, we will have a clear military side: the Kurdish people. We even believe that the immediate unity between Rojava and Basur in a Federate State is posed as necessary and possible.

At the same time, “we do not support nor call to trust the current Kurdish leaderships, because of their class nature –bourgeois or petit-bourgeois– and because of their policy (like abandoning the struggle for a Unified Kurdish State). This means that being part of the Kurdish people’s field, we fight these leaderships politically, and we call to fight their policies which go against the unitary struggle of the Kurdish people (like the agreements with imperialism and Putin), and we demand them to apply policies that reinforce this struggle, instead. In the case of autonomy in Iraq, it is also posed the immediate class struggle of the Kurdish people in Basur against the Kurdish bourgeoisie expressed by Barzani.”

In the frame of this process of struggle, we call to build a new Kurdish leadership willing to lead this fight all the way to the end. Specifically, we believe that it is posed the urgent necessity of building a workers’ revolutionary, socialist Kurdish party, which together with encouraging and being an active part of the struggles, also poses the construction of a Unified Kurdish State as part of the tasks to move towards a Federation of Socialist Republics of the Middle East.


Translation: Sofía Ballack.


[1] Read in Spanish here:

[2] Masud Barzani, son of Mustafa Barzani, founder of the party and one of the leaders of the ephemeral Republic of Mahabad, established in Irani territory in 1946.

[3] Rojava Azadi:

[4] OK Diario:

[5] Peace agreement that defined the borders of the current Turkish republic – T.N.

[6] The author is Kurdish Bayram Balci, currently researcher and specialist in the Middle East in Sciences Po of Paris. For his stands, he seems to be linked to Barzani as much as to the Rojavan CNK.