After the Vote, Does the Kurdish Dream of Independence Have a Chance?

Iraq’s Parliament has asked Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to bring charges against Kurdish leaders who participated in the referendum and to send troops into disputed areas claimed by both the Kurds and Baghdad.

Turkey and Iraq are conducting military maneuvers on Iraq’s borders near Kurdistan. Turkey has threatened to close its border crossing into Kurdistan, which relies on imported goods and food from Turkey and, to a lesser extent, Iran.

A healthy democratic government might weather the storm. But the Kurdistan Regional Government lacks the foundations of a democratic state — rule of law, free and fair elections, civil society and a legislature with real power to challenge a dynastic executive leadership.

“We don’t have rule of law — we have a monarchy,” said Rabbon Marof, a member of the Kurdish Parliament and a leader of the “No for Now” movement that opposed the vote.

The region’s president, Massoud Barzani, remains in power two years after his term expired. The Kurdish Parliament was paralyzed for two years until it met two weeks ago to rubber-stamp the referendum Mr. Barzani had already set in motion.

The government is a Barzani family enterprise. Mr. Barzani is the son of the former Kurdish leader Mustafa Barzani. Massoud Barzani’s son Masrour Barzani heads the security council in his father’s government.

Massoud Barzani’s nephew, Nechirvan Barzani, is prime minister. The president’s uncle is Hoshyar Zebari, Iraqi’s former foreign minister and Mr. Barzani’s top adviser on the referendum.

Denise Natali, an expert on Kurdistan at National Defense University in Washington, says the issue for the Kurds may not be whether the region can transform itself into a state but the kind of state it would become: “poor, failed, and unstable.”

Mr. Zebari acknowledged in an interview on Friday that the regional government had “shortcomings,” but he said it was more democratic and secure than the rest of Iraq. He said the independence vote would force more accountability.

The region is an economic weakling dependent on oil. It earns roughly $8 billion a year from oil shipped through Turkey via a pipeline that Ankara now threatens to shut down.

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