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'Barzani using referendum to regain legitimacy'

Iraqi Kurdish leader Massud Barzani delivers a speech during a rally to urge people to vote in the upcoming independence referendum in Arbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq, on September 22, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

International and regional players have been loud and clear in their opposition to the Iraqi Kurdistan Region’s referendum on independence. Nevertheless, the semi-autonomous Kurdish region has remained defiant and pressed ahead with the plan. Press TV has asked Zayd al-Isa, an Iraqi affairs expert from London, and Othman Ali, a professor at Salahaddin University from Erbil, to give their analyses of Kurdistan’s highly contentious move.

Zayd al-Isa opined that ever since Masoud Barzani’s second term as the President of the Kurdistan Regional Government ended in 2013, he has been looking for ways to cling to power; hence, the importance of this referendum.

Barzani “has chosen this moment in order to end the infighting ... and to regain the legitimacy that he has lost,” the analyst said.

Isa argued that by holding the referendum at this sensitive juncture, Barzani’s primary goal is to shore up his waning influence and prop up his power.

Barzani is trying to reclaim his credibility, reassert his authority, cover up his performance as president and bolster his faltering leadership, he stated.

Isa described Barzani as a “brutal ruthless dictator” who has been holding the reins of power without giving the people of Kurdistan the right to vote on his presidency.

According to Isa, Barzani has all along argued that it is the democratic right of the Kurdish people to vote in this referendum, “when he has actually worked tirelessly to deny the Kurdish people the right to speak freely.”

The political expert further warned that the referendum is highly contentious, divisive and unilateral, and “will fuel further tension” and push Iraq towards a boiling point.

The referendum will destabilize Iraq at a time when the country is involved in a large-scale fight against Daesh terrorists, including in some Kurdish areas, he noted.

On Sunday, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said Baghdad will not allow the referendum to create an “ethnic government” in the country.

Meanwhile, Othman Ali, noted that the idea of holding an independence referendum has been on the table since 2014 even before the war against Daesh started and now that the terrorist group is an isolated threat, “Kurdish people feel it is time to exercise their freedom and ... express their will whether to stay in Iraq or to have an independent state.”

He said the country should have turned into “a democratic federal Iraq” and a referendum must have been held in Kurdistan earlier based on the 2005 constitution.

Ali further noted that the current support for Barzani does not mean he is accepted as “a leader of all Kurdish people for all time.”

Although the president has “a lot of shortcomings” and “is not a true democrat,” Kurds have supported him at this time in order to hold the referendum, the professor said.

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