Iraqi Kurdistan’s referendum on independence has made an already bad situation for the Kurds far worse. Instead of enhancing the Kurds’ political leverage and autonomy, it has squandered international goodwill toward them, antagonized Baghdad and its neighbors, and deepened economic risks and societal fissures. It has also spurred the loss of control over important territories and resources. Iraqi security forces have reasserted authority over Kirkuk and its oil assets, other “disputed territories,” and Iraqi border crossings after a negotiated withdrawal of Peshmerga forces.
The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) now finds itself hemmed in politically and economically. Although the KRG has offered to “freeze” the referendum results in response to the political fallout and in order to forestall the advances of Iraqi forces into Kurdish-controlled territory, the Iraqi government is demanding full cancellation, although both sides are engaged in negotiations. The fallout from the referendum also promises to reorder the KRG’s internal politics; President Masoud Barzani has announced that he will step down from his post on November 1.