After Kurdistan’s Independence Referendum, most countries did not respect the right of the Kurdish people to declare themselves an independent state. The Americans were disturbed that the timing was not right for the referendum. The Turks, the Iraqis, the Iranians and the Syrians were hostile to the idea from the onset as they feared the possibility of losing territory to Kurdish national aspirations.
Iraq and Iran were even ready to declare war in order to ensure that no new Kurdish state came into existence. The Iranian Revolutionary Guards together with the Shia militias attacked Kirkuk and the other disputed areas. International flights were prevented from going to and from the Erbil and Soleimani Airport. The Kurds suffered from embargoes and faced much international isolation. Since Kurdistan is a landlocked area, an embargo by the neighboring states is a fatal decision.
No matter how much Marsoud Barzani tried to weather the storm and to reassure the Turks, the Americans and the world at large that a Kurdish state would enhance regional security and professed he is only interested in Iraqi Kurdistan and no other territory, it was of no use.
The Kurds’ traditional adversaries were not convinced to back off and even the U.S. did not help their Kurdish allies, stressing that the Kurds did not listen to their advice emphasizing that the referendum was ill-timed and needed to happen after the re-election of Mr. Abadi and not before it. In the end, Masoud Barzani’s term ended. In the midst of all of this chaos, a hero emerged who saved the day.
Kurdistan’s Prime Minister Nichervan Barzani with his youthful energy had all of the popular support that he needed should he decide to launch a full-out war for independence. The Kurdistan Region was under attack by over 68 different Shia militias. Kurdistan’s neighbors started this campaign of aggression because they did not want to give the Kurds a chance to become independent.
The Kurdish Peshmerga were more than ready to fight back and defend an independent Kurdistan, a national dream of theirs that they have been denied by the colonial powers since the turn of the century, when the borders of states in the Middle East were drawn up without taking into consideration who lived in those areas. This is how Sunnis, Shias and Kurds got stuck living in a failed state called Iraq.
The Kurds very much wanted to break out of this failed state and to build their own country, which they believed would have a better chance of succeeding since a Kurdish state will be more homogenous, more democratic, more pluralistic and more humane than anything under the control of a sectarian dictator. However, despite the fact that justice was on his side as over 50 percent of his territory was invaded after the Kurds fought hard to defend their areas from ISIS and other terror groups, Nichervan Barzani was committed to peace and did not see how anything positive could come out of any war.
Mr. Barzani saw that his people were already suffering immensely from the great loss of Kirkuk and he feared a horrendous humanitarian disaster would occur should he launch a full-scale war. After the Kurds suffered immense tragedies under Saddam Hussein, they could not afford to lose their autonomous area in its entirety. So Mr. Barzani resorted to diplomacy. He argued that if Abadi was actually following the Iraqi Constitution in its proper federal form, the push for independence would have been unnecessary.
So he froze the results of the Kurdistan Independence Referendum and started to meet with leaders around the world in order to pressure Mr. Abadi into following the Iraqi Constitution. As it turns out, while there was limited support for an independent Kurdistan, Mr. Barzani received massive international support for forcing Mr. Abadi to follow the Iraqi Constitution properly. The Americans, the French and other important players all agreed that the way that Mr. Abadi violated the Iraqi Constitution was unacceptable.
Mr. Abadi did not want to give the Kurds any concessions and if anything, wanted to further erode their rights. But he was thrown off guard when the Kurds showed that they were committed to international dialogue and negotiating based on the federal constitution. And so slowly and gradually, things started to improve on the ground in Iraqi Kurdistan not because Mr. Abadi wanted them to but because Mr. Barzani’s diplomacy forced him to adjust to the new reality.
The plight of the Kurds began to improve without shedding additional blood thanks to Mr. Barzani’s diplomacy and his wisdom to know when to avoid war. And for this reason, he deserves the Nobel Peace Prize for preventing what would have been a bloody war with great humanitarian suffering in Iraq.
• Rachel Avraham, a senior media research analyst at the Center for Near East Policy Research and a correspondent for the Israel Resource News Agency, is the author of “Women and Jihad.”