The U.S. & West should support Kurdish independence. Here’s why. [Analysis of Kurdish referendum]

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UPDATE: Kurds vote overwhelmingly in favor of independence from Iraq (CNN headline). “Iraqi Kurds have voted overwhelmingly in favor of declaring independence from Iraq in a historic and controversial referendum that could have wide-ranging implications for the Middle East,” reports CNN. “More than 92% of the roughly 3 million people who cast valid ballots on Monday voted ‘yes’ to independence, according to official results announced by the Kurdish electoral commission on Wednesday.”

ORIGINAL POST: On Monday, September 25th, the Kurdish people of northern Iraq will vote on a highly controversial referendum on whether to secede from the Republic of Iraq and create their own independent state. It is expected to pass overwhelmingly. But then what?

Marsoud Barzani, the Kurdish president, laid out the case in a June 28th op-ed in the Washington Post, “The time has come for Iraqi Kurdistan to make its choice on independence.”

Most world governments, however, oppose the referendum. They see the move by the Sunni Muslims of the Kurdistan province as ill-timed and needlessly complicating an already highly volatile geopolitical situation in the Middle East. Especially adamant against the move are the Shia leaders in Baghdad and Tehran, as well as the Turkish government, which hates the Kurds with a vengeance.

Unfortunately, the Trump administration also opposes the referendum, or at least its timing. This is a mistake. The Kurds deserve their freedom now.

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I have had the honor of visiting the Kurdish province in northern Iraq four times. Over the years, I have met with Kurdish Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani, Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani (who was the Kurdish representative in D.C. at the time), a range of other Kurdish government officials, and Christian pastors and ministry leaders in Kurdistan. I have been moved by their history, have fallen in love with their people — especially the children — and have been praying for the people and leaders ever since.

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The referendum the Kurds have drafted is not perfect. Indeed, in some ways it is overreaching. And yes, it will complicate diplomatic matters in the region. Rather than oppose it, however, the U.S. and Western powers should be working with the Kurds and regional leaders to negotiate a peaceful and reasonable conclusion, one that gives the Kurds their independence but ensures they are cooperating partners in the region’s security and economy.

The Kurds have been patient for the better part of a century, while the world continues to cut them loose. Enough is enough. It is time to support their bid for self-determination. If not now, then when?

The column expresses my own personal opinions. It does not reflect the views of The Joshua Fund, which is a non-political organization, and takes no position on legislative or political issues in the U.S. or other countries.

(Top photos: Meeting with Kurdish Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani in Erbil.)

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