A Kurdish woman puts casts her ballot. Another Kurdish woman holds the cover of the voting slot open.

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) arranged a referendum on Kurdish independence on 25th September, against the wishes of the Iraqi government in Baghdad. Political tension and military confrontation have followed. In this article, written exclusively for CABLE, the Head of Foreign Affairs for the KRG, Falah Mustafa, urges dialogue between Erbil and Baghdad, and asks the international community for its support.


Within the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), and across wider Kurdish society, there is undeniable disappointment about the reaction of Baghdad, the neighbouring countries, and the international community, to our referendum.

We believe that we have been very honest with the people in Baghdad, the neighbouring countries, and with the international community. We stated very clearly that the right to self determination is a democratic right for the people of Kurdistan to exercise. Moreover, we stated firmly that we do not intend to declare independence unilaterally the day after the referendum. We have been very clear about that. We need to start the negotiation process.

Therefore, it did not need this overreaction, either from Baghdad, or from the neighbouring countries. In fact, Baghdad overplayed its hand by using military force, something which violates the Iraqi constitution.


Falah Mustafa, Head of the Kurdistan Regional Government’s Department of Foreign Relations. Image: KRG

Now that we are in the post-referendum era, we want to engage in a very serious dialogue with the government in the centre, addressing the issues between Erbil and Baghdad. The people of Kurdistan are concerned with all the military threats and punitive measures being taken against our region. We are disappointed with the overreaction; we did not commit a crime, and our people don’t deserve such a reaction. As a peaceful nation, we have asked for our democratic rights which are stated even in the Iraqi constitution.

The KRG is seeking unconditional dialogue with the government in Baghdad, within the framework of the constitution. We believe dialogue and negotiation to be the only way forward in order to address our differences. Kurdistan stands for peace, tolerance, and coexistence and we need a partner for this. At this stage, what we need is clarity from Baghdad, to be ready for technical discussions, political dialogue, and joint security mechanisms.


The people of Kurdistan are concerned with all the military threats and punitive measures being taken against our region. We are disappointed with the overreaction; we did not commit a crime, and our people don’t deserve such a reaction.

Regarding the concerns about the disputed territories, we were very clear in saying that this will not determine the future status of the disputed areas, or areas of Kurdistan outside the KRG administration. That has not changed. Baghdad should not try to take measures to collectively punish the people of Kurdistan, because that is not the right way forward. The recent attacks on Kirkuk, and other disputed areas, have resulted in disastrous outcomes: bloodshed; domestic tensions; and a major wave of displacement. To use military force against citizens of Iraq violates the Iraqi constitution. Therefore, the recent attacks on the people of Kurdistan are not only inhumane but unconstitutional.

History tells us that the military approach is not the answer to finding a solution to political disputes. This is a political issue and that is why we need to sit down around the table and discuss it. Neither a military operation from Baghdad, nor from the neighbouring countries, will contribute anything to the region’s stability and security. We are committed to peace, stability, and to coexistence. Inviting neighbouring countries to intervene is not the right policy. This will have negative long-term implications.

OUR PRIORITIES, LOOKING AHEAD 

We are now in the post-referendum era. At this stage, we understand the concerns, the reactions – but we are where we are. We have to deal with this new reality. I believe it is time for Baghdad and Erbil to engage. And it is important that our international partners become directly involved and encourage both sides to enter dialogue. The road forward – and the only option – is to engage with each other and to develop a meaningful and serious dialogue.

Internal unity is one of the foremost priorities for the KRG at this stage. The welfare of our people is the prime concern. The KRG is now working seriously with the Kurdistan Parliament, and other relevant authorities in the region, towards internal reconciliation and the prevention of any division.


The KRG took the initiative and offered to freeze the outcome of the referendum. Having done so, we strongly urge our friends in the outside world to request and support: an immediate ceasefire; a halt to military advances; a termination of military confrontations; and a start to constructive dialogue with Baghdad.

The KRG emphasises once more its commitment to peace. It condemns violence of any form. For the sake of regional peace and stability, the KRG took the initiative and offered to freeze the outcome of the referendum. Having done so, we strongly urge our friends in the outside world to request and support: an immediate ceasefire; a halt to military advances; a termination of military confrontations; and a start to constructive dialogue with Baghdad.

A diplomatic middle-ground must be found. What is the alternative? We believe it is important for Erbil and Baghdad to engage directly, with help from the international community, the UN, the Security Council, and other partners who are interested in playing a neutral role in encouraging both sides to negotiate.

At the end of the day, we have to live together in the same geographical area – we will always have to live next to each other, and to share borders. Therefore, we have to believe in each other’s right of existence. That is why there is no alternative to dialogue. There needs to be an understanding between the two sides, and for us to explore ways in which we can reach an agreement that is satisfactory to both sides. This is how we can bring about peace and stability for our region, for Iraq, and beyond.


The existing tensions threaten further instability, in our country and beyond: the spread of terrorism; disruptions to energy supply; and waves of migration to the west.

The KRG asks its partners in the international community to take more seriously the situation on the ground, and to play an active role in preventing any further escalation of tensions. The existing tensions threaten further instability, in our country and beyond: the spread of terrorism; disruption to energy supply; and waves of migration to the west.

We live in an interconnected world and we do not wish to suffer from isolation. We have past experience of being isolated from the world. Nevertheless, we are disappointed in the international community for opposing our democratic and legitimate rights. We have addressed our friends in the government, the civil society, and the public about our aspirations. We expect respect and understanding in return.


Minister Falah Mustafa Bakir is Head of the Department of Foreign Relations in the Kurdistan Regional Government.


Feature image: a woman puts her voting paper into a ballot box at a polling station on Kurdish independence referendum day. © David Pratt.