The vote by Iraqi Kurds on their desire for independence, due to take place on Monday, poses real risks in an unstable region. But their case deserves to be heard
If not now, when? This is the obvious and reasonable question of Iraqi Kurds seeking to exercise the right to self-determination – enshrined by the UN charter, though often ignored – in a referendum on Monday. They already enjoy a high degree of autonomy. They believe their key role in the fight against Islamic State demands recognition, giving them leverage over western powers; and that the alternative is continued, subordinate membership of a broken and divided Iraq, a century after the Sykes-Picot carve-up.
The response has been overwhelmingly negative. The rest of Iraq, the US, Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the UK, the EU and the Arab League all oppose the vote thanks to concerns ranging from Kurdish secessionism within their own borders and the furthering of ethnic divisions to the immense dangers it poses in a perilously unstable region – particularly given that voting covers the disputed territories the Kurds have gained in the fight against Isis. The US and others want the vote postponed, understandably. But “later” is almost as unsatisfactory an answer as “never” to Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani and his supporters – and that too is understandable.