After the second Gulf War and an interim government since June 2004, democratic elections are held in Irak in January 2005. Despite tensions and threats of attacks, Arabs (88%), Kurds (11%), Turkmen and Assyrians (1%) vote in numbers and, in April, the first Kurdish Iraqi president, Jalal Talabani, is chosen. During this transition, a first informal referendum of independence for Kurdistan Region is held alongside these parliamentary and regional elections. With a score of 98%, Kurdistan Region is granted an autonomy status later inscribed in the constitution in October.

Between 2006 and 2011, Iraqi society is devastated by a first civil war between and against different groups including Shia insurgents, Baathist Sunnis, Salafi Sunnis and small Islamist groups. In 2011, this state of civil war is officially declared over but insecurity remains and the Iraqi state is left hurt and vulnerable. In 2013, an insurrection by Sunnis groups in the province of Al-Anbar (the largest governorate in the West of the country) breaks out and lead to the second Iraqi civil war with the birth of the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS) between eastern Syria and western Iraq. While the war against the self-proclaimed caliphate was raging, the Kurdish forces recovered de facto territories while joining Baghdad’s and the international coalition military efforts. In this dramatic and bloody period of time, a second referendum is announced in 2014 but held only after the liberation of Mosul in July 2017.

The regional authorities organise a referendum of independence on the 25th of September 2017 within a critical context: Iraq is barely recovering from a deadly conflict against the caliphate, refugee camps in Kurdistan Region are filled with millions of internally displaced people and Syrians, the genocide of the Yezidi is unsolved with thousands of its members still missing, a long history of wars and conflicts continues with its implications to the destinies of the Kurdish populations in Iran (Rojhelat), Syria (Rojava) and Turkey (Bakur). Challenging this precarious context, the referendum rekindled tensions throughout the region at a time when 92% of Kurds voted yes in the hope of a peaceful and better future.

As a result and after few days of celebrations, protests happened in Iranian Kurdistan with the deployment of tanks at the border, Kurdish parties dissociated themselves, Erbil International Airport was shut down, Turkey stopped all its flight connections threatening economic retaliation. Bagdad launched a military operation on Kirkuk causing the suspension of the referendum’s results and the loss of 40% of the regional territory, bringing the loss of its main source of income from the Kirkuk oil fields.

Fixer: Rasan Hasan

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