Israel 'sole foreign supporter' of independence referendum in Iraq's Kurdistan

Israel 'sole foreign supporter' of independence referendum in Iraq's Kurdistan
Israel is the first country to come out in support of the upcoming Kurdish referendum, while Western powers fear a split could provoke a new round of conflict in Iraq.
3 min read
14 September, 2017
Israeli PM Netanyahu has endorsed the creation of a Kurdish state [Getty]
Israel supports the establishment of a Kurdish state, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has said, as Kurds in Iraq gear up for a referendum on independence that lawmakers in Baghdad as well as international governments oppose.

Israel has maintained discreet military, intelligence and business ties with the Kurds since the 1960s, viewing the minority ethnic group - whose indigenous population is split between Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Iran - as a buffer against shared Arab adversaries.

On Tuesday, Iraq's Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani said he would press ahead with the September 25 referendum despite a vote by Iraq's parliament rejecting it.

"(Israel) supports the legitimate efforts of the Kurdish people to achieve their own state," Netanyahu said, in remarks sent by his office.

Western powers are concerned a referendum in Iraq's semi-autonomous Kurdish region - including the oil-rich city of Kirkuk - could divert attention from the war against Islamic State militants.

Iraq's parliament voted on Thursday to remove the governor of Kirkuk from office following a request from Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

The decision to remove the governor, Najmaddin Kareem, comes after Kirkuk voted to take part in the referendum.

Netanyahu said Israel does however consider the Turkey-based Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) a terrorist group, taking the same position as Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

Netanyahu, who is due to address the UN General Assembly on September 19, voiced support for "the Kurds' aspirations for independence" in a speech in 2014, saying they deserve "political independence".

His latest remarks appeared to be a more direct endorsement of the creation of a Kurdish state.

But they will cut little ice in Baghdad, which has no diplomatic relations with Israel and has strong ties with Israel's arch-foe Iran.

Kurds have sought an independent state since at least the end of World War One, when colonial powers divided up the Middle East after the collapse of the multi-ethnic Ottoman Empire.